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Volume 7 -- Issue 172 -- High Evolution Part 4

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High Evolution Part 4
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Professor Charles Xavier taught his X-men to fight for peace and understanding in a world that hates and fears them. Time and again, that world has been brought to brink. After teaming up with the mysterious High Evolutionary, Magneto created Asteroid M. Officially, this new world is meant to provide an entirely new ecosystem for mutants. Unofficially, it is destined to doom all life on Earth.

In light of this threat, the X-men have united with X-Force. With help from Wanda Maximoff, they arrived on Asteroid M along with most of Earth’s mutant population and one million humans eager to leave their decaying world behind. Using technology developed from MGH, the High Evolutionary turned all but one of them into mutants. At first everyone seemed happy. Then the one human who resisted, Isaac, exposed the truth.

Having been thwarted by Xavier before, Magneto is not taking any chances. From a reconstructed citadel, the High Evolutionary exerts control over all his creations and turns them on the X-men. He also traps Professor Xavier and Wanda Maximoff before they can stop the plan to wipe out all life on Earth. In order to ensure the success of Asteroid M, the High Evolutionary has prepared a grim fate for the X-men.


Asteroid M – Citadel

The X-men had been at the mercy of their enemies before, but never like this. Magneto and the High Evolutionary proved that the world they created was every bit as majestic as they boasted, but they also proved that they could control it as well. That control was a vital part of their plan to purge all life from.

Magneto’s expression hadn’t changed since the truth came out. He showed little reservation when he used his powers to contain Cyclops, Phoenix, Beast, Nightcrawler, and Captain Freeman in metal tendrils he made from the very structure of the citadel. He showed even less reservation as he did the same to Wanda and Professor Xavier. He had since silenced Professor Xavier by covering his mouth with metal. While the X-men struggled, he stared down his angry daughter.

“I’m sorry it has to be this way, Wanda,” said Magneto flatly, “I’d hoped to spare you the burden of the truth.”

“Did you really think lying to me would work in the long run?” she retorted, “What about Pietro, Lorna, and the rest of the Brotherhood?”

“It will be better for everyone if they do not know the truth. The destruction of Earth need not be an act of war. An unavoidable tragedy is easier to process. There will be sorrow at first, but in the long run there will be prosperity for all.”

“And all those innocent people back on Earth are acceptable losses?” she retorted.

“I’m surprised you’re this outraged,” quipped Magneto, “You stood by my side for years as we opposed humanity. You never had a problem attacking a world that you admit is woefully corrupt.”

“Attacking corruption and global genocide are two very different things, father. I used to believe in what we were fighting for. On some levels I still do. But recently I’ve learned a few lessons about endless fighting.”

Magneto noticed Wanda’s gaze drift towards Nightcrawler, who was suspended next to him. His vision narrowed on his daughter. He could see more than just an unsavory influence on her.

“I hope those lessons didn’t make you soft,” said Magneto, “I understand you’ve been living under the protection of X-Force. I expect you to resist their corruptive influence.”

“They didn’t influence me as much as you think. Just being away from all the conflict gave me time to reflect on what we’re doing for our kind. And you know what I’ve learned?”

“You mean aside from how there can be no peace?”

“We’re all part of the problem. You, the humans, and the X-men!” said Wanda sternly, “We’re all fueling this carnage. It’s never going to stop until one of us stops the cycle. After what happened with Lorna, I thought you could be the one, father!”

“You thought wrong,” said the master of magnetism coldly, “This is the only way to preserve the future of our kind. If lies are necessary to make it work, so be it.”

“I hear you say that, but I don’t believe it’s you that’s thinking it,” said Wanda, “Even if the father I know is willing to destroy the world, there’s no way he would be okay with lying about it.”

Her scold deepened as she attacked Magneto in a way only a daughter could manage. Despite her harsh words, his expression remained unchanged. The more she looked into his stoic gaze, the more convinced she was that something was very wrong.

Before Wanda could scold her father any further, the High Evolutionary stepped in. Such family affairs were a nuisance. That was about to change. After synthesizing a new batch of MGH variants, he prepared a number of vials with a carefully measured dose. He couldn’t convince the X-men to go along with Asteroid M so he would settle for the next best thing.

“Far be it from me to intrude upon family squabbles, but I’ve little tolerance for conflict on Asteroid M,” said the High Evolutionary as he held up one of the vials.

“So your solution is to use drugs to escape zhe conflicts?” scoffed Nightcrawler.

“Sounds like something my mom would do,” muttered Captain Freeman.

“It’s also something Romulus already tried,” Cyclops pointed out, “It didn’t work out for him. What makes you think it’ll work out for you?”

“I’m aware of how Romulus and Sebastian Shaw have utilized my work,” said the High Evolutionary, “They were but amateurs who dared only go so far.”

“And you’re willing to go further?” said Phoenix.

“That’s not something to be proud of,” scolded Beast, “You claim to be a visionary. But if you’re that insecure that you must control an entire world, then you’re not mad. You’re pathetic on a level that Carl Sagan himself couldn’t quantify.”

“And compensating in a way that leaves way too much to the imagination,” added Phoenix.

The High Evolutionary shot Beast and Phoenix a bemused smirk. They seemed to forget that they were the ones encased in metal. They also seemed to forget that this was not their world. They needed to be reminded that nature on Asteroid M were different.

“Rather than respond to such infantile insults, I’ll thank you instead,” said the High Evolutionary as he approached Beast, “You just decided for me who will be the first recipient of this freshly modified MGH. Since Wanda is so precious to my old friend here, I prefer we do a quick test to ensure it has the proper effect.”

“And if it doesn’t?” questioned Magneto.

“We still have several other test subjects. Think of it as an impromptu science experiment…one that demonstrates the level of control I exert on this world.”

The X-men watched as the High Evolutionary stood before Beast and prepared a syringe. Cyclops, Phoenix, Nightcrawler, Captain Freeman, Wanda, and Professor Xavier struggled with their metal restraints. Magneto tightened them to make sure they saw what was about to happen. A wry smirk never left the High Evolutionary’s face as he jammed the syringe right into Beast’s neck and injected the reddish substance.

“Ungh!” grunted Beast.

“No! Leave him alone!” Phoenix cried out.

“To be fair, he did question my scientific competence,” said the High Evolutionary.

“Whatever you just did to him, you’re going to regret it!” yelled Captain Freeman.

“Not as much as your feral friend here,” he said with a mischievous grin.

They watched in horror as Beast underwent a profound transformation. The veins in his neck and all along his upper body started bulging. Within minutes his whole body nearly doubled in muscle mass, growing nearly a foot taller in the process.

It happened so fast that the metal restraints Magneto used to contain him started to crack. His fur also shifted from blue to a much darker color and his teeth became more jagged. As the drug flowed through his system, his growls became more primal. Once he stopped growing, his eyes shifted into a bright purplish hue. They looked similar to the purplish gaze of the High Evolutionary, indicating that this new creature still had a leash.

“ERRRRRAAAHHHHHHHH!” the new Beast roared.

“Mein Gott,” gasped Nightcrawler.

“Not God, but close enough,” said the High Evolutionary.

The X-men were horrified by this sight. It wasn’t enough for the High Evolutionary to just control them. He had to turn them into a monstrous reflection of their former selves.

“Is that supposed to happen? I’d rather my daughter not be covered in fur,” said Magneto, his tone still flat.

“It’s a minor side-effect. One that’s easily corrected,” said the High Evolutionary.

“For your sake that better be reversible!” yelled Cyclops, “You think you’re in control now? You’re just giving us more reasons to kick your ass! And that’s assuming there will be anything left after I get through with you!”

“In that case, I think we just got our next volunteer,” said the High Evolutionary in a humored tone.

Magneto nodded and used his powers to release the Dark Beast from his metal confines. As soon as he was free, he thrashed around wildly and let out an angry snarl. With his eyes still glowing, his whim was guided strictly by the High Evolutionary, who then directed him towards Cyclops.

“The sooner you accept the truth, the better off you’ll be,” said the High Evolutionary, “You and your friends are fighting a losing battle here in Asteroid M. We have a whole world with which to destroy you. And soon enough, it will be the only world.”


Asteroid M - Sirius Lake

“DESTROY THE SCOURGE! PURGE OUR WORLD! DESTROY THE SCOURGE! PURGE OUR WORLD!”

Those angry chants were the war cries of every creature that could utter them on Asteroid M. There was nowhere Storm, Colossus, Psylocke, Domino, and Warpath could go to escape it. Within minutes of everyone turning on them, they were cornered at the shore of the lake. They had nowhere left to go. Even the sea creatures swimming in the lake bore the same purplish eyes that symbolized this shared hostility.

Every former human and animal were closing in. They moved in perfect coordination as if they were guided by an outside force. They surrounded the X-men in preparation for a single devastating attack. The X-men tried to spread out in order to avoid being cornered. Some of the former humans along with a few bird-like animals from above launched early attacks to prevent this.

“GET OFF OUR WORLD!” yelled an old Asian man who used his mutant powers to generate concussive force waves.

“Isn’t it customary to say please?” grunted Colossus as he used both fists to redirect the attack into a crowd of approaching former humans.

“Go easy on them, Colossus. These people are clearly not in control of themselves,” said Storm as she struggled to kick up high winds.

“If you have an alternative, I am open to suggestions,” said the Russian as he fought off two young teenage mutants with cat-like agility.

Colossus grunted as the two mutants clawed and slashed at his face. These former humans that had been so peaceful moments ago fought with the kind of blind rage that was difficult to go easy on.

“I am wasting way too many bullets here,” said Domino as she fired carefully at a couple of former humans with durable skin, “Even my luck only goes so far.”

“We need time more than luck and we’re running out of both,” said Warpath as he fought off some of the dog-like animals that tried to pounce.

“Is that a go-ahead to start shooting people in the leg?” asked Domino as she narrowly avoided being grabbed by an oversized mutant.

“Not yet! Hold off just a bit longer, Domino. Storm’s already working on an escape plan.”

“I know you seriously want to sleep with her, James. But I think we’re placing too much faith in her winds. Hell, does Mother Nature even have a say in this place?”

It wasn’t an unreasonable question. Storm appeared to be struggling to utilize any winds while the rest of the team did their best to buy her time. Domino continued to avoid inflicting fatal wounds. More former humans with rocky skin, durability, and healing tried to attack her. She fired carefully aimed shots at their back and chest that would stun them, but not seriously wound them.

Warpath literally threw several dog-like creatures off him into crowds of approaching former humans. One with bright yellow skin lunged in and struck him right across the face, delivering some acid-like burns in the process. It burned even Warpath’s durable form while driving him back further.

Warpath, Colossus, and Domino were soon within a few feet of Psylocke and Storm. Psylocke had been aggressively using her psionic blades, driving them right into the heads of any former human that managed to get close enough to them. That delivered a rough telepathic shock that would have rendered normal humans unconscious. For those determined yet unwitting souls, it merely stunned them.

“Their minds are shrouded by some kind of psychic haze. I can’t get through to them!” said Psylocke as she narrowly avoided a swipe from a mutant with claw-like fingers.

“Are they being telepathically controlled? Can you somehow block it out?” asked Storm.

“If I knew the bloody source, I might. Even if I did, I could only do it for a handful of them at once. And that’s not counting the animals,” she grunted with growing frustration.

“So there’s no chance of gaining any allies?” dreaded Storm, who stayed  close to Psylocke as a mutant with six arms tried to grab her.

“I wouldn’t bank on it,” said the young psychic, “Whatever’s controlling them must be hard wired into their brains. Which is why we need an escape!”

“I’m working on it,” said Storm, “The winds here are…different. I don’t feel the same connection to them.”

“Then make one because we’re out of time!” shouted Domino.

The pressure was on Storm. They were within inches of the shoreline where alligator-like creatures were closing in on them. Psylocke tried to protect her so that she had room to concentrate, using her psionic blades to divert a swarm of insect-like creatures that tried to overwhelm them. She ended up taking a few nasty bites. Before she could even wince, she had to fight off another older woman with a ghost-like appearance. She soon found herself disoriented, unable to use her psionic blades to disable this former human.

“YOU DO NOT BELONG HERE!” yelled the woman.

“Ack! I’m pretty sure you don’t belong in my lungs either,” coughed Psylocke.

Psylocke was quickly rendered immobile. Five other former humans tried to go for Storm, forcing Domino, Colossus, and Warpath to pick up the slack. Domino saved herself the bullets by jumping up and using the butt of her gun to strike two of the former humans that had a plant-like appearance. The other three included a father and his two young children, each of which had malleable ink-like skin. Warpath tried to get in their way, but he was reluctant to strike the young family.

“This ain’t good parenting, pal. Leave your kids out of this!” urged Warpath.

“WE ALL STAND FOR OUR WORLD! MAN AND CHILD ALIKE!” yelled the man.

Warpath tried to shove the trio aside. That proved messy because the two children shifted their ink-like form to become more vicious, allowing them to smother the Native American mutant.

“Ugh! Tastes…like mud,” choked Warpath.

“THIS WILL TASTE WORSE!” yelled the man.

Despite his children still covering Warpath, the man shifted his arm to form a club-like weapon. With it he slammed the Native American mutant across the face. It hit with such force that even his durable form couldn’t withstand it. He fell back, tumbling onto his hands and knees while the two children continued slithering around him in their ink form.

“James!” Storm cried out.

“He’s survived worse, Storm. Try and stay focused here!” urged Domino as she fought off an aerial attack from a few flying mutants, “It looks like they’re preparing for something and we need to be out of its way.”

As Storm looked out over the hordes of former humans, she saw what Domino meant. This coordinated attack didn’t attempt to overrun them with sheer numbers. Whoever was guiding the people wanted to keep everything focused and organized.

By now the former humans and animals were pulling back. That allowed the hundreds of other mutants to form an inescapable semi-circle around the X-men. Around that circle every mutant with firepower of some kind stood in the front, preparing to fire a simultaneous blast. Above them any mutant with flight powers along with various animals hovered above, ensuring they had nowhere to run.

“DESTROY THE SOURGE! PURGE OUR WORLD! DESTROY THE SCOURGE! PURGE OUR WORLD!” they all chanted in perfect unison.

“Storm, we’re out of time!” yelled Colossus, who was shoved back by a couple of sisters with gravity manipulation powers.

“I know. I’m…trying,” grunted Storm, her eyes flickering in a white hue, “These winds…are too…stubborn!”

The air around her grew hot and stale. With every ounce of strength, she tried to connect with these artificial forces of nature. They resisted her as if someone was actively pushing her back.

“Hnn…I know you’ll do it, Storm,” said Warpath, still choking on the ink-like mud that had covered his upper body, “If you can reach someone…as stubborn as me…you can make these winds your own.”

Storm’s gaze drifted towards Warpath. As she watched him fight off the inky sludge that consumed him, a new rush of determination surged through her. Asteroid M was so artificial and controlled. Trying to control it herself was a losing battle. Her only hope was to try a different approach.

‘Nature can never be controlled. It can only be harnessed. I may not be able to wrestle control away from you, Magneto. But I can still introduce a little chaos to the winds. Let’s see how your world handles true nature!’

No longer attempting to control the winds, Storm redirected her efforts. In an ominous display, her eyes erupted in a burst of white light. That did not dissuade the army of former humans unleashed their blast.

In an effort to thwart her response before it began, they unleashed their powerful attack. It included forces such as energy blasts, laser blasts, electrical shocks, fireballs, ice shards, telekinesis, and sonic waves. Psylocke, Warpath, Colossus, and Domino braced themselves for the impact. But it never came.

Before the blast struck, a powerful gust of wind swirled around Storm. From that gust, a dark cloud formed that overtook the X-men. In the process, it blew off the ghost-like woman from Psylocke and the ink-like sludge on Warpath. Once inside this cloud, the X-men were literally throw up into the wind just in time to avoid the onslaught.

“WHOA!” they all yelled out.

“It’s happening!” proclaimed Storm, her eyes still glowing.

As the X-men went flying across the lake, the winds continued to swirl. As the energy from so many different blasts converged on the cloud, it triggered a white-hot burst and unleashed an air blast that momentarily engulfed the whole lake in a blinding light.

It was quickly accompanied by a blast so powerful that it kicked up water from the lake and cause any winged being within a half-mile radius to falter. The force on the ground was even more intense, knocking waves of former mutants back and disrupting their once perfectly coordinated attack.

“DESTROY…SCOUGE…PURGE OUR…WORLD!” they all stammered as they tried to reorganize.

The cloud continued to grow, following completely random patterns that further disrupted the once peaceful lake. The swirling clouds continued to carry Storm, Colossus, Warpath, Psylocke, and Domino. It was not the smooth ride they were used to with Storm’s powers. Within moments they found themselves falling towards the lake where a group of hungry alligator-like creatures was waiting for them.

“Bloody hell…those things look hungry,” said Psylocke as she saw the creatures.

“Pull us up already, Storm! Some of us didn’t pack our swim suits!” yelled Domino.

“It’s not entirely up to me this time,” she replied.

The alligator creatures were already on the surface preparing to take a bite out of them. Then another sharp gust of wind blew in and pushed them further up into the sky. It was another disorienting blow to their senses, but it took them out of the line of fire. Some mutants from below still tried firing at them, but due to their lack of coordination they missed. They did not handle the chaos well. It was as if chaos itself was the X-men’s best weapon.

As Storm ascended with Psylocke, Domino, Colossus, and Warpath their path stabilized. They noticed the starry mosaic that made up the sky became wavy and disoriented. The once awe-inspiring sight was exposed as a façade. As it faltered, Storm gained greater control of the winds.

“Ugh! Now I know how a bug in a washing machine feels,” groaned Psylocke.

“You did it, Storm!” exclaimed Warpath, “You got control of the-whoa shit!”

The X-men felt more gusts blow around them. While they were moving forward, it was by no means a smooth ride. They were not the same winds they were used to on Earth.

“It would seem that control is a work-in-progress,” said Colossus, fighting off dizziness and nausea.

“I can only manage partial control,” said Storm as her eyes kept flashing, “I’m not actually guiding these winds. It’s only when the winds are guided by chaos that I can exert power over them.”

“So you basically have to screw it up and then put it back together?” said Domino, “Sounds tricky.”

“You have no idea,” groaned Storm.

“But it’s working,” said Warpath as he shook off his daze, “I think we’re onto something here. Throw a little dirt onto this bullshit paradise and we have the advantage.”

“You think the others know that?” asked Colossus.

“We’ll share it with them when we meet up,” said Storm as she focused harder, “Get ready for a bumpy ride because I’m taking us to City X. We need to pull the plug on Magneto’s new world. We need to show him he’s vulnerable.”

“In more ways than you think,” said Domino with a smirk.

The X-men entrusted themselves to Storm’s chaotic winds. Below them, they could still see a world that had turned on them. They stood little chance of fighting every last being. They had to go after the source and wherever it was, Magneto was probably close to it.


City X – West Plaza

“IS THIS WHAT YOU BEEN REDUCED TO, MAGNETO? THROWING YOUR OWN MEAT PUPPETS AT US?” roared a defiant Wolverine as he stood panting with predatory intent.

Wolverine had been bludgeoned and battered in ways that even a strong healing factor couldn’t hide. Standing in the middle of a crowded square, it was a miracle that he could even stand. He drew the wrath of dozens of former humans, each driven by an unseen hand to attack anyone that didn’t bear the distinct purple glow in their eyes.

He endured energy blasts, fireballs, toxic globs, ice shards, and psychic attacks. Those with enhanced physical agility tested their prowess against him, often getting wounded in the process while still inflicting their share of blows. Having just taken a series of body shots from a mutant whose fists resembled bricks, he was enduring a world of pain.

“Keep ripping the flesh from his bones. He can’t oppose us all!” exclaimed a young woman with yellow skin and tentacle-like arms.

“KEEP IT COMING!” snarled Wolverine, “I’LL TAKE ON THIS WHOLE FUCKED UP WORLD!”

More former humans poured into the plaza, surrounding Wolverine and throwing everything they had at him. The former living weapon continued fighting back and absorbing various blows along the way. It took a toll, but this beating wasn’t completely without purpose.

In one of the residential buildings overlooking the plaza, the rest of the X-men helped assemble a make-shift shelter. They quickly discovered that the only ones following the warpath besides the animals were the 999,999 former humans that the High Evolutionary turned into mutants. Within moments of uncovering the plan to destroy Earth, they all turned on them. That forced Rogue, Gambit, and Emma Frost to take cover with Isaac while Wolverine drew all the attention.

“You think Wolvie be overdoing the whole diversion bit?” wondered Gambit as he watched Wolverine take on more challengers, “He starts hurtin’ people and we gonna have problems.”

“He’ll be fine. We’ve got enough problems on our end,” scoffed Emma.

Their attention was abruptly diverted from Wolverine as two imposing mutants with red skin were thrown through a nearby wall. One was a woman with fire powers. The other appeared to be her father. Each looked like they had gone one too many rounds with Rogue, who walked in through the hole behind them rubbing her knuckles.

“Ah warned you,” she told them, “You burn of mah hair and I break your jaw.”

“I believe I’ve made my point,” said Emma wryly.

“Much as Remy enjoys seeing Rogue play rough, this be gettin’ too close for comfort,” said the Cajun as he took out a fresh deck of cards.

“It’s closer than ya think, sugah. We got more on their way!” said Rogue, “There’s almost a million of them and only a few of us. The odds ain’t in our favor.”

That harsh reality became more apparent by the second. Gambit and Emma had to duck away from the window as a couple of flying former humans passed over the roof. They attacked with exotic pulse blasts, which caused the upper levels of the building to shake violently.

That sent a fresh wave of fear through the mutants that had taken shelter within this building. Some were former residents of District X and various mutant communities. Some were former citizens of Genosha who were not inclined to fight. They all huddled together in the center of a large unfurnished room near the top floor of a residential building, listening to the commotion escalate outside.

Among the beleaguered mutants trying to shut out this conflict was Isaac, who showed little fear despite being the only human on Asteroid M. He walked up and down the rows of mutants, offering to console them with his prayers.

“Oh Heavenly Father, protect us as we traverse the valley of death,” he said to them, “Your blessed ones are under siege. Guide them with your love as you have guided me with your mercy.”

“You sound way too bold for a human,” said a mutant man who was looking after his little mutant brother, “You sure God can hear in a place like this?”

“God hears the cries of all his children,” said Isaac, “He protects the blessed and punished the accursed.”

“I feel pretty accursed right now,” groaned a young woman with orange skin, hugging her knees, “Magneto said this place wouldn’t have shit like this.”

“That’s the problem with deceivers. They often sound most sincere,” said Isaac, “They are always exposed by the light of truth. Eventually, they burn by it.”

“With or without God, do you really think you stand a chance against a million crazed mutants?” asked a former resident of Genosha.

“The odds are more in our favor than you think,” said Isaac cryptically.

The faith of the mutants remained fragile as they huddled together. The building shook more violently as it was struck by more concussive blasts waves outside. Gambit kept trying to throw charged cards at them, but they proved elusive. Emma joined Rogue near the fresh hole in the wall she made. They were in turn joined by more former humans that braved the shaking and tried to corner them.

“THERE THEY ARE! PURGE THEM FROM OUR WORLD!” yelled a bald man with dark skin and fists the size of boxing gloves.

“PURGE THEM AND THE HUMAN! OUR WORLD MUST BE PURE!” yelled an Asian woman that radiated with purplish sparks.

“Dang, Ah thought Ah disabled the elevator,” groaned Rogue.

“They’re smart enough to understand stairs, Rogue,” said Emma dryly.

“Wish they were smart enough to shake off Magneto’s control,” she groaned.

Rogue braced herself again and attacked the Asian woman with purplish sparks. The woman demonstrated significant firepower, shooting off purplish sparks that singed the walls. Rogue’s durable form allowed her to brave these sparks. Her uniform got a little singed, but she was still able to fly in and level the woman with an uppercut. She had to make sure she tapered her strength enough to knock her out and not inflict serious injury.

Emma Frost was slightly less merciful. The bald man with oversized fists went right in for the knock-out blow. He swung at her with a punishing right cross. Emma quickly shifted into her diamond form, which spared her the impact and any unpleasant wounds that would have crippled a weaker being. As the man prepared to strike with another punch, she lunged in and kneed him right in the groin.

“Ack!” the man choked.

“Guess that’s one feature that evolution can’t fix,” grinned Emma.

“Ah thought we agreed that we needed to go easy on these people,” said Rogue as she made sure the woman before her remained on the floor, “You’re the one that said they ain’t in control of themselves.”

“I also said they’re all sharing a collective psyche,” said Emma, “This irrational rage is not directed towards any of the other mutants that the High Evolutionary didn’t get his slimy hands on. It’s focused solely on the X-men.”

“That mean we be putting these folks at risk by just being near them?” asked Gambit.

“What part of irrational rage didn’t you understand?” said Emma, “The irrational part is their willingness to go through anyone to get to us. That means it’s only a matter of time before someone gets caught in the crossfire. That also means we have to hit a little harder to strike back at that collective mentality.”

“You almost sound confident,” said Rogue dryly.

“Look at this way…at least there’s no shortage of targets.”

Emma’s crass assessment was overshadowed by more former humans storming the area. It sounded like at least a dozen were fighting their way up the stairs. They burst into the room, led by Vargas every step of the way. He had awoken after being knocked unconscious earlier. Now bearing the distinct purple eyes of every other former human, he led the charge against the X-men.

“YOUR TIME IS WANING, X-MEN!” yelled Vargas with ten enraged former humans following him, “YOU HUMILIATED ME! NOW YOUR CORPSES SHALL HANG FROM THE HIGHEST HILL!”

“You again?” groaned Emma.

“Ain’t you humiliated yourself enough, Vargas?” said Rogue.

“HA! THIS TIME I HAVE AN ARMY AT MY SIDE!” he yelled.

Rogue and Emma prepared themselves for the onslaught. But before Vargas could lead a full charge, another figure emerged from behind the two X-men. It was Senyaka, who had unwittingly set this chaos into motion. Using the same energy whip that disabled Vargas earlier, he twirled it around and used it to lasso Vargas once more.

“Some army,” scoffed Senyaka as he started draining the enraged man’s life energy, “And I thought Magneto was a blowhard.”

“ARGH! NOT AGAIN!” exclaimed Vargas as his energy was drained once again.

As Vargas was drained, the army of former humans behind him hesitated. It turned out to be a mistake because while they were focused on Vargas, two metal shards shot up from the floor and carved a series of gaping cracks around the floor. These cracks quickly grew, causing the floor to become destabilize.

“IT’S A TRAP!” yelled one of the former humans.

“Nope, it’s just me,” said Mercury from below.

“Make that us!” said Pixie, the former resident of District X that was carrying her.

The former humans behind Vargas tried to run out ahead of the cracks, but it was too late. The floor collapsed and every former human fell through. Some crashed through the floor below, creating more holes. Along the way they missed Mercury and Pixie, who were hovering just below the opening. Pixie flew them both up where they joined Senyaka.

“This time I’ll make sure you take a much longer nap,” said Senyaka to Vargas as he clenched his whip.

“Listen to the man, Vargas. You’ll be doing yourself a favor. You don’t want meh to have to knock you out,” said Rogue menacingly.

“You X-men…made a big mistake,” seethed Vargas has his strength was drained, “You should’ve…embraced this world.”

“Sorry, but mass extinction just isn’t our style. And in case you haven’t noticed, the X-men are big on style,” said Emma in a vain tone.

“Then you…will doom…us all.”

Vargas was fighting Senyaka’s life-draining whip much more ardently than before. Senyaka clenched his whip even harder, trying to drain more of his energy. Then with strength that he shouldn’t have been capable of, Vargas grabbed Senyaka’s whip and yanked it hard. That caused the Sri Lankan mutant to stumble forward where Vargas struck him with a punishing left hook.

“Argh!” grunted Senyaka as he fell to the floor.

“Ooh, should he have been able to do that?” asked Pixie.

“No…he shouldn’t have,” said Mercury.

Shifting her arms, Mercury formed large blocks for hands as she tried to go after Vargas. It looked like Senyaka only drained a portion of his life energy. A few quick blows to the head should finish the job, but she was unable to land them. Vargas managed to duck under her attacks and strike her in the face. That warped her liquid metal complexion, allowing Vargas to grab her by the arm and throw her across the room where she was caught by Emma Frost.

“Ungh! My face!” said Mercury in a slurred tone.

“Perhaps you should have taken my academy more seriously,” said Emma as she helped her up.

“You’re just hitting all sorts of lows ain’t ya, Vargas?” said Rogue as she quickly rushed to protect Pixie.

“That was lower than low! Give me a shot at him!” urged Pixie.

“He ain’t as drained as he looks, sugah. Let us durable folk handle this,” said Rogue.

“Aw come on! I never got this chance in District X!” complained Pixie.

“You’ll get more than your share, little girl. For siding with the X-men, you’ll suffer their same fate!” seethed Vargas.

His threat was quickly reinforced by renewed commotion from below. Despite having plunged several floors, the former humans that followed Vargas were back on their feet. Some of them had agility that allowed them to jump right up through the hole in the floor. They were soon joined by others that were carried on a wave of a glowing force shield, courtesy of a young Indian boy with an enlarged head.

“YOUR SCOURGE CANNOT HIDE! YOU WILL BE PURGED FROM THIS WORLD!” yelled the boy as he and the former humans joined Vargas.

“These mindless drones are as annoying as they are unoriginal,” said Emma as she led Pixie back into the room with the rest of the mutants.

“Ah’m sick of it too, but there’s too many of them!” said Rogue as she stayed behind to confront them, “Guess Ah’ll have to settle for roughing up Vargas.”

“You seem to forget that I have more than just an army to back me up,” grinned Vargas.

That reminder was accompanied by more punishing force waves from outside. It caused the whole building to rock violently. Cracks formed in the walls, evoking panicked cries from those sequestered in the other room with Isaac. As the shaking intensified, Gambit stumbled using his bow staff for support.

“It ain’t looking good out there,” he said, “Those hommes with the wings be stepping up their attack and Remy be running out of cards.”

“Does it look like it’s going any better here, Cajun?” quipped Rogue.

“I believe that proves my point,” grinned Vargas, “Now I am tempted to ask that you surrender yourselves in exchange for the innocent lives you’re protecting, but I have a feeling I’d just be wasting my time.”

“As if you wouldn’t have screwed us over anyhow,” said Emma, rolling her eyes.

“You’re probably right,” Vargas replied, “So I’ll have to settle for roughing you up far less than you deserve.”

Rogue, Gambit, Mercury, Senyaka, Pixie, and Emma Frost were already cornered when they decided to barricade themselves in this building. Now the math of the battle was finally catching up with them. Vargas and the 999,999 humans-turned-mutants that Magneto controlled made it painfully clear that would never stop hunting them. They had run out of tactics to hold off the onslaught and they still had other mutants to protect. At that point, all they could do was keep fighting.

“Any lessons from the Academy that could help us now, Ms. Frost?” asked Pixie.

“I’m afraid this is where general education reaches its limits,” she answered while still in her diamond form.

“In other words, we start winging it?” groaned Mercury.

“Pretty much,” said Rogue as she cracked her knuckles.

The X-men prepared to fight off Vargas’s attack. They could see him drooling at the prospect of overwhelming them. Then in an unexpected turn, all the surrounding windows burst open and a powerful gust of wind shot through the building. It was so powerful that it knocked Vargas and the army of former humans behind them off their feet. It also forced the X-men and their associates to duck for cover.

“Whoa! Is that another attack?” exclaimed Senyaka, who had finally risen from his wounded state.

“Non…Remy knows these winds too damn well,” said the Cajun.

“On a place like Asteroid M? Is that even possible?” said Rogue over the howling gusts.

As more winds came howling through, Isaac braved the danger and stumbled in from the other room. From his position with the other mutants, he saw the source of these gusts.

“X-men, look outside!” said the holy man, “Our saving grace has arrived!”

“I presume you mean metaphorically,” said Emma, who already sensed what he was referring to.

Rogue, Gambit, Mercury, Pixie, and Senyaka looked out the blown windows where the winds were still howling. They noticed the skies outside had become wavy and distorted. The gusts seemed to follow these distortions. The X-men followed the trails back up to Storm, who was hovering a few dozen feet over the building. It looked like she was channeling a new form of nature and it created some punishing effects.

Among those most affected by such affects were the flying mutants that had been attacking the building with force waves. They included two brothers with wings and gargoyle-like appearances and a young woman with moth-like wings. They had been swirling the building along with a flock of bird-like creatures bearing the same purple glowing eyes. They had kept the X-men indoors to this point. Now under Storm’s chaotic winds, they found themselves swept away.

“THESE WINDS! WHERE ARE THEY COMING FROM?” exclaimed one of the brothers, acting as though he had never seen such chaos before.

“THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE! THIS SHOULDN’T BE!” exclaimed the young woman.

“It appears Magneto made this world too comfortable,” said Storm in an imposing tone, “I suppose that means I’m doing him a favor, as much as I loathe the notion.”

Her eyes glowed brighter than they ever had before. Armed with the power of chaos, she unleashed more gusts of wind from the distorted skies above. Swirling clouds formed above the building and around the winged mutants trying to stay aloft. They made a vain attempt to attack Storm. They were swept away before they could get close enough. From the that chaos, Storm finally cleared the skies above the building and gave the X-men some much-needed breathing room.

“I hope you don’t mind the light breeze! These are not the winds I’m used to!” said Storm through the windows.

“I’ll take a full-blown hurricane over Vargas any day,” said Rogue as she and the others retreated back towards Isaac.

“Nice to see you makin’ yourself at home, Stormy,” said Gambit, “What about the others?”

“Since it appears you destroyed the elevators and stairs, they had to take an alternate route,” she replied with a wry smile.

More punishing winds swirled into the building, pushing back Vargas and his army of former humans even further. That allowed Rogue, Gambit, Emma, and Isaac to retreat into the other room where some very confused mutant refugees were trying to make sense of the winds.

They were then startled by the sound of something heavy striking the floor above them. They all looked up just in time to see Warpath and Colossus punch a large hole into the ceiling. From this hole, they entered along with Psylocke and Domino. If their hair was any indication, they endured quite a trip on Storm’s winds.

“Hey guys! Mind if we drop in?” said Warpath.

“I’ve never been more relieved to hear someone make such a terrible joke,” said Emma.

“Cut us some slack! My head is still spinning from having to ride a tornado,” said Psylocke as she tried to fix her long purple hair.

“Still beats getting ripped to pieces,” said Domino.

“Hate to break it to you, chere. But you might not have much better luck here,” said Gambit.

As Warpath, Colossus, Domino, and Psylocke entered the area, Vargas and his army of former humans braved the winds in an effort to attack again. Many were disoriented. The purple glow in their eyes flickered as if Storm’s actions disrupted whatever mind control they were under.

“DESTROY THE…PURGE THE…SCOURGE!” said a number of former humans through jumbled words.

“Pull yourselves together! It’s just wind!” yelled Vargas, “They X-men are destroying our world. They must be stopped!”

“As Bobby would say, you need to chill out,” said Storm from outside.

More powerful gusts filled the building, this time laced with snow. It continued to disorient the former humans, but not as much as before. Vargas remained determined. He was the only one that seemed unaffected by this sudden influx of chaos. He still had his sights set on the X-men and the human they sheltered.

It was still painfully clear for Rogue, Gambit, Emma, Warpath, Colossus, Psylocke, and Domino. They had an endless army of mind-controlled mutants to battle and plenty of free mutants trying to escape the chaos. There was no way they could fight them all off, even with the full force of Storm’s attack.

“You may be right, Gambit,” said Colossus, “Staying in a crowded city full of mind-controlled mutants may not be the best strategy.”

“As if our chances outside the city are much better,” scoffed Domino, “At least here we don’t have to deal with the High Evolutionary’s animal farm.”

“Well we clearly can’t stay here. We’ll only be cornering ourselves and other innocent mutants,” said Warpath.

“Then we won’t stay here,” said Isaac strongly as he continued looking out the window, “Now that Storm has cleared the way, we can make our move.”

“What move?” questioned Psylocke, “Did you guys come up with a plan or something? Was throwing Wolverine to the wolves outside part of it?”

“If that be part of a plan, ain’t nobody told Gambit,” said the Cajun mutant.

Isaac exchanged glances with Domino and Emma Frost. They seemed to know what he was referring to. With Vargas’s forces bearing down on them, they didn’t have time to explain it.

“Seeing as how we’re in no position to share the details, you’ll just have to trust us and wing the rest,” said Emma.

“Coming from you, that sounds way worse than it ought to,” said Rogue.

“Then trust me instead,” said Isaac as he turned to Rogue, “Forgive me if I’m pushing the limits of our trust, but this plan involves you flying me to Magneto’s citadel.”

“You wish to confront Magneto in his home on his world while surrounded by armies of his associates?” questioned Colossus.

“Are you going to try and dissuade me?” asked Isaac.

“Nyet,” he said, “In times such as this, the foolish move is often the most appropriate.”

Rogue hesitated to heed Isaac’s request. She didn’t have time to overthink it though. Vargas and the army of purple-eyed former humans had reached them. Senyaka and Mercury tried to drive them back. Senyaka used his energy whip to harass three former humans with enhanced agility that were able to brave Storm’s winds. Mercury had to fight off two young children with spikes protruding from their bodies. It left Colossus to handle Vargas, as he came at them more determined than anyone.

“YOU WILL NOT DENY US OUR NEW WORLD!” yelled Vargas.

“And you will not deny us ours,” said Colossus sternly.

Just as Vargas reached them, Colossus avoided his attack with a spin move and laid him out with an uppercut. More former humans followed, looking increasingly disoriented from Storm’s winds. It forced Rogue to make her decision on the spot. She turned towards Gambit, Domino, and Psylocke, who nodded to offer their support.

“You sure you guys can hold your ground here?” asked Rogue.

“Don’t be worry about us, mon amour. We can handle a world of angry mutant folk,” assured Gambit with his traditionally cocky grin.

“For a while, that is,” said Domino as she prepared her guns.

“It won’t take long. You have my word,” said Isaac sternly, “I may have unyielding faith, but I wouldn’t have come here if I didn’t have the tools. If my information is correct, I need to be at Magneto’s citadel to make it work.”

“I’ve already confirmed it, darling. Telepathy never lies and neither do stray thoughts,” said Emma, still in her diamond form.

“Then we need to hurry,” said Isaac as he turned back towards Rogue, “We’ll need more than just the Lord’s blessing to get through this.”

“Seeing as how Ah ain’t big on disappointing the man upstairs, Ah’ll give you mah word as well,” said Rogue, “Ah’ll get you to the citadel if Storm can keep the weather lousy.”

“From the looks of it, that won’t be an issue,” said Warpath as more cold gusts swept through the building.

“Then Gambit will have to save the kiss and say goodbye in another way,” said Gambit.

The Cajun braved the cold gusts from Storm and joined the battle with Colossus, Senyaka, and Mercury. He took out one of his few remaining decks of cards and charged every one of them. He then unleashed a shower of charged cards all over Vargas and the approaching former humans. A rapid succession of deafening bangs ripped through the already damaged building, blinding any mutant that had firepower and leaving a brief opening for Rogue and Isaac.

“Guess that’s our cue,” said Rogue as she grabbed Isaac and took to the air.

“May God be with us,” said Isaac as he held on tightly.

“Do us a favor and try not to meet him too soon,” said Emma Frost.

Rogue and Isaac left the ever-encouraging Emma behind with Gambit, Psylocke, Colossus, Domino, and Warpath. They joined up with Senyaka and Mercury to take on Vargas and his associates. After the smoke cleared from Gambit’s explosive card trick, they were ready to attack again and the X-men were ready to resist them for as long as they needed.

As Rogue and Isaac flew out through one of the broken windows, some of the mutant refugees still huddling for cover waved goodbye. Isaac waved back, which helped to reinforce the faith he had imparted on them.

‘Endure just a bit longer, blessed ones. God’s grace is already with you. It is I who must earn it.’

Isaac closed his eyes and braced himself through the high winds as Rogue flew out from the building. They passed Storm, who watched them take off and used her winds to clear the skies of any flying mutant or animal. They could already see the citadel in the distance. It was an imposing structure that they would have to traverse if they were to save both worlds.

As they flew over the plaza, they passed over the bludgeoned Wolverine. He hadn’t let up in his efforts. He still played a vital role, directing as many former humans towards him as possible. He had just taken a barb through the chest from a mutant with the appearance of a sting-ray. He grimaced only briefly before yanking the barb out and kneeing the mutant right in the gut.

The feral mutant noticed they were going down a lot easier since Storm arrived with her mini-hurricane. Seeing Rogue and Isaac pass over gave them even more hope. Despite his face dripping with blood, he managed a wolfish grin as he prepared to take on the next wave of aggressors.

“Good luck, bub,” he said as he prepared his next attack, “Too bad I gotta stay here and distract Magneto’s meat puppets. I would love to see the look on his face when he finds out how badly we’re gonna screw him over this time!”


Citadel – Lab

Cyclops had stared down some pretty nasty adversaries before. It was especially unsettling when one of those adversaries was his teammate and former teacher. Beast, now in his much darker and much more primal form, stood within a few feet of where he was bound by Magneto’s metal restraints. There was nothing left of the witty intellectual. There was only a snarling man beast, sizing up his prey for slaughter.

Phoenix, Nightcrawler, Professor Xavier, Captain Freeman, and Wanda watched this horror unfold. They were still bound within their metal restraints and Magneto made sure they had no chance of breaking free. He and the High Evolutionary seemed mildly amused at the prospect of Cyclops being mauled by the Dark Beast.

“Leave him alone!” Phoenix cried out.

“Don’t do it, father! You’re supposed to be better than this,” urged Wanda.

“You know, she may have a point,” said the High Evolutionary in a humored tone, “Go on. Give the boy a fighting chance.”

“It’s only fair,” shrugged Magneto indifferently.

The master of magnetism used his powers to free Cyclops. The metal restraints slithered back into the floor and ceiling, allowing the X-leader to fall to the floor. Before he could even get up though, Dark Beast lunged for him and grabbed him by the torso.

“RRRRRAAAARRRRRRRR!” the Dark Beast roared.

“Ack! Would it be fair to give him a breath mint while you’re at it?” grunted Cyclops.

The X-leader struggled to break free from the primal figure’s grip. He felt his clawed nails digging into his flesh, forming wounds that stained his uniform with blood. Ignoring this pain, Cyclops used his legs to kick Dark Beast in the neck. That kept him from taking a bite out of him, which he could tell he wanted to do.

As his nails dug in further, Cyclops managed to deliver a hard knee to the lower jaw. That silenced the snarling momentarily and loosen Dark Beast’s grip. It allowed him to slip out for a moment and adjust his visor. However, he remained reluctant to fire.

“Don’t make me do this, Beast,” he urged the snarling creature, “Don’t fight me. Fight the ones that did this to you.”

“ERRRRRRRR!” snarled the Dark Beast, showing few signs of resistance.

“What are you waiting for, Summers? Blast him already!” urged Captain Freeman.

“Give him a chance to fight it, Captain,” said Cyclops, “He can beat this!”

“I’m sure he appreciates the vote of confidence, but I don’t see him fighting anything, mein friend,” said Nightcrawler.

“Any chance you could just teleport us out of this?” asked Captain Freeman.

“Vhat do you zhink I’ve been trying to do?” the German mutant grunted, “I can’t teleport vithout taking zhe whole citadel vith me. And even I don’t have zhat kind of power.”

“I appreciate the effort, but I can handle this,” said Cyclops strongly. “So can Beast.”

His confidence in his former teacher seemed misplaced. He continued to resist using his optic blasts to strike Dark Beast. That allowed the snarling creature to pounce again. Cyclops managed to avoid the strike, rolling to his side and trying to least Dark Beast away from the others.

While Cyclops continued to narrowly avoid Beast’s attacks, the High Evolutionary’s demeanor shifted. The demonstration was supposed to reinforce the notion that he was in control of this world. Through his cosmic awareness, that notion was being undermined. He sensed the disturbances the other X-men had created. They found a way to disrupt the carefully tuned ecosystem that he and Magneto painstakingly constructed. It created some interference that even his cosmic gaze couldn’t see through.

“Is something wrong? You don’t seem to be enjoying the show,” said Magneto.

“It’s the rest of the X-men. They’re proving more pestilent than expected,” said the High Evolutionary as his eyes kept flickering.

“I’ve been in that position before,” said Wanda snidely, “First you underestimate them. Then they find a way to beat you.”

“That’s not going to happen this time,” said Magneto confidently.

“As if I would allow it,” scoffed the High Evolutionary, “The Brotherhood has nearly completed the thrusters. They’ll be active before any of your friends arrive. I sense they’re trying to shroud themselves in some sort of cloak, but they cannot change your world’s fate.”

“That’ll just give them more reason to mess up this tidy little world of yours,” spat Captain Freeman.

“It also gives me a reason to speed up this little experiment,” said the High Evolutionary as he turned back towards Cyclops and Dark Beast, “I was going to have our new Beast here merely incapacitate your friend. Since your comrades insist on making this difficult, I’m content with disposing a potential test subject.”

The High Evolutionary’s purple eyes flared again. This time Dark Beast’s eyes flashed as well, indicating that he had received new orders. Now instead of trying to pin Cyclops, the imposing figure used more lethal tactics.

He started slashing with his sharpened nails and punching with his oversized fists. Cyclops narrowly avoided these attacks and soon found himself cornered near a bio tank. Despite this lethal turn, he would not blast his former teacher.

“Don’t do these guys any more favors, Beast,” said Cyclops, “You’re helping him destroy our world!”

“HRRRRRRRR DIIIIIIIEEEEEEEE!” roared the Dark Beast.

The imposing creature attacked again, slashing at Cyclops with his oversized fists. This time he couldn’t avoid the attack. Dark Beast’s ape-like agility was too quick. The X-leader took a hard blow to the side.

Bones broke and blood gush from the resulting wound. The pain was intense. Cyclops tried to stay on his feed, but it proved too difficult. Dark Beast grabbed him again by the torso. Cyclops tried to kick his way out of the deadly grasp. Dark Beast didn’t let him, though. In a blind rage, he threw the X-leader across the lab so that he crashed into an array of servers.

“ARGH!” exclaimed Cyclops as he impacted the array.

“SCOTT!” Phoenix cried out in horror.

“So much for your faith in your former friend,” said the High Evolutionary snidely.

“Can it, you overgrown Teletubbie!” barked Captain Freeman, “You should have blasted him when you had the chance, Cyclops.”

The X-leader looked seriously wounded. He hit the servers so hard that he left a sizable dent in the front panels. The force broke more bones, leaving the X-leader bloodied and battered. He remained conscious, sitting in an upright position. With blood dripping down his face, it was clear that he had no chance of fighting back at this point.

While the sight was horrific for the X-men, the High Evolutionary was deeply satisfied with these results. His new Dark Beast had taken to his new persona nicely. Cyclops’s efforts to reach Hank McCoy were laughable. Now the snarling creature looked ready to deliver the killing blow.

“I’d say this is a successful experiment,” said the High Evolutionary.

“I agree,” said Magneto indifferently.

“DAMN YOU! DAMN YOU BOTH TO FUCKING HELL!” Phoenix yelled out with tears now forming in her eyes.

“There’s no place for such language here on Asteroid M,” said the High Evolutionary snidely.

“I’LL USE WHATEVER FUCKING LANGUAGE I FEEL LIKE! YOU DECEIVE US! YOU TRAP US! AND NOW YOU’RE HURTING THE MAN I LOVE! YOU DESERVE EVERY FUCKING WORD OF IT!” roared Phoenix.

“Such a fiery spirit,” teased the High Evolutionary, “Yet still so weak. And from someone I once saw wield cosmic power, no less. It’s really pathetic.”

The High Evolutionary waved Dark Beast down, allowing Cyclops’s wounds to fester for a bit before he met his end. He turned his attention towards Phoenix.

She was now struggling against her metal restraints more than anyone. She had tears in her eyes, looking more desperate than enraged. She had the look of someone who had once been strong, but was now painfully impotent. His cosmic awareness told an even greater story that Wanda, Nightcrawler, Captain Freeman, and Professor Xavier weren’t aware of. It made her a perfect candidate for his next test subject.

“You’re pushing your luck by pissing her off,” warned Nightcrawler.

“Thank you for the advice, but I’m safer than you think,” said the High Evolutionary as his purple eyes flickered, “My cosmic awareness allows me to keep a close eye on other cosmic forces in the universe. I know Miss Grey here was quite entwined with one of them. That Phoenix mark on your back gives it away.”

“If you can see that, then you know I’ll rip you to shreds if you hurt Scott again!” yelled Phoenix.

“I don’t doubt that you would do so if you had the power. That’s exactly why I’ve ordered Dark Beast to spare him for the moment.”

“Why? Just so he can suffer more?”

“No…so I can make this next test easier,” said the High Evolutionary.

His purple eyes still flaring, the High Evolutionary retrieved another syringe filled with the exotic substance that turned Beast into such a monster. He then approached her with a sinister gaze. Magneto followed close behind, summoning more metal to restrain her as she tried to use her telekinesis to free herself.

“Take one step closer and I swear…” seethed Phoenix.

“You would love to, wouldn’t you?” taunted the High Evolutionary as he held up the glowing syringe, “But you don’t have that power. In fact, not having that power has been torture, hasn’t it? So much so that you’ve considered measures unbecoming of any X-man.”

Now the others were curious as well. Phoenix’s outrage faltered under the High Evolutionary’s man’s cosmic gaze. She tried to hide the shame under a veil of anger, but the imposing figure was intent on making a point.

With Magneto ensuring that she couldn’t break her restraints, the imposing figure reached for the belt on Phoenix’s uniform. He opened a small compartment that usually contained small first aid materials. From it, he retrieved a familiar vial of reddish fluid. When Nightcrawler, Captain Freeman, and Professor Xavier saw it they gasped.

“Is zhat…” began Nightcrawler.

“MGH? Seriously, Jean?” said Captain Freeman with a harsh scorn.

“It’s…not what you think,” exclaimed Phoenix, “I never took it. I just…”

“You wanted to use it the next time you felt too weak. It was your last resort. A symbol of your ineptitude,” said the High Evolutionary as he tauntingly dangled the substance over her, “You can’t regain your cosmic power so you were willing to settle for the next best thing. You know what says about you? Other than being weak of character?”

“I’m pretty sure I don’t give a damn what you think,” shot Phoenix, her voice clearly wounded by his words.

“It says to me that you want to be powerful again. It’s a viable experiment. By giving you the same dose as Beast, you’ll have that power again. And with it, you’ll be the one that slays Cyclops. You’ll be the one that slays the rest of your friends as well, assuming they’ll even make it that far.”

“No! You’re fucking crazy! I won’t do it!” she exclaimed.

“You cannot deceive one with cosmic awareness, Jean Grey,” said the High Evolutionary wryly, “Your outrage says one thing, but your weakness says so much more. You want to be a true Phoenix again. You want this power, more than you want your friends or your former lover. And I’m going to give it to you. Not as a gift or an act of mercy…but out of pity.”

The High Evolutionary retrieved a syringe. Wanda, Nightcrawler, Captain Freeman, and Professor Xavier looked on in horror. They had all seen Phoenix wield cosmic power before. They knew how dangerous it made her. With that kind of power and the High Evolutionary controlling her like Dark Beast, there would be no stopping her.

“Zhis is mandess!” exclaimed Nightcrawler, “If she has even a fraction of her Phoenix strength, you’ll destroy both worlds!”

“This is one thing you can’t be control and you know it, father,” spat Wanda.

“You need not worry, my daughter. Only the X-men will face Phoenix’s wrath,” assured Magneto, “Her power will be a fitting addition to Asteroid M. Under our control, we’ll never be weak again.”

It horrified Jean Grey in way that struck at her very core. Even more terrifying was that the High Evolutionary might have been right on some levels.

Losing the Phoenix Force had rendered her weak. She kept that dose of MGH with her at all times, ready to take it when she couldn’t afford to be weak again. It was pathetic. She deserved to be outraged with herself more than the High Evolutionary. Her weakness was about to cost her everything.

As she watched the High Evolutionary prepare her dose, a raging fire started growing within her. It was a fire that hadn’t burned since she lost her connection with the Phoenix Force. She was no longer trying to telekinetically break her metal restraints. All her outrage and focus was directed inward.

The faint flicker of cosmic fire that resided in her burned stronger. All the weakness and vulnerability she had struggled with played out in her mind. Then she looked towards Cyclops, who was still badly wounded. Through all this inner toil, the dormant fire within her began to burn through all that weakness. As the High Evolutionary readied the syringe, that fire finally reached the surface.

“Admit it, Jean. You want this,” said the High Evolutionary.

“No…I don’t,” said Phoenix in a stern yet focused tone.

“You cannot keep fighting it. You need it!” he said as he motioned to inject her.

“No…I DON’T!”

In a fiery burst that would have surprised any cosmic awareness, Phoenix’s body erupted in a burst of fiery flames that knocked back both Magneto and the High Evolutionary. Magneto was knocked flat on his back, hitting his head in the process and rendering him unconscious. The High Evolutionary ended up crashing into the computer terminal just below his monitor. While they were overcome with shock, Phoenix used her new fiery power to break her metal restraints. Now free, she hovered with a familiar bird-like shape surrounding her.

“Damn, we sure could’ve used that earlier,” said Captain Freeman.

“Jean…has zhe Phoenix Force returned?” asked Nightcrawler.

“This isn’t the Phoenix Force. This is all me,” said Phoenix proudly.

As she continued to flex her renewed power, the metal restraints were weakened. Wanda, Nightcrawler, Captain Freeman, and Professor Xavier were finally able to catch their breath. The metal over Professor Xavier’s mouth fell off as well. After being silenced, it looked like the X-men finally had a chance to fight back.

“The restraints are weakened, Phoenix! Free us!” urged Professor Xavier.

“Oh no you don’t! Not while I’m still in control!” said the High Evolutionary as he picked himself up, “Dark Beast, a new meal awaits you!”

Dark Beast, who had been standing over Cyclops’s wounded form, turned around and snarled at the fiery figure. The purple glow in his eyes flickered and he let out a feral snarl as he charged Phoenix with murderous intent.

“HRRRRRAAAAAARRRRRR!” the feral figure roared.

Phoenix didn’t flinch. She remained in a steady hover as Dark Beast leapt into the air with ape-like agility and tried to slash her with his claw-like nails. He didn’t even get halfway because Phoenix caught him in mid-flight with her telekinesis. The enraged creature continued to snarl and thrash wildly, reaching out in vain to attack its prey.

“I can’t break the hold he has on you, Beast. Your mind is too tainted by the High Evolutionary’s influence,” said Phoenix.

“ERRRRRRR MUST…KILL!” Dark Beast snarled through his feral rage.

“I’ll apologize for this later. But I’m sure Sage won’t mind nursing you back to health,” said Phoenix.

With a casual gesture, Phoenix used her telekinesis to fling Beast clear across the lab. He impacted a series of observation tables, landing with a hard thud and tumbling into a stack of lab equipment. The impact was rough. It didn’t knock him out, but it rendered the snarling creature dazed.

“Do you think throwing my friends at me will make me any less pissed?” said the Phoenix, her voice radiating with newfound power.

“I didn’t expect Dark Beast to slay you. I only needed him to distract you,” said the High Evolutionary in a mischievous tone.

Phoenix turned away from Dark Beast to see what he was referring to. While she had been preoccupied, the High Evolutionary slipped over towards the wounded Cyclops held him in a choke hold. He still had the syringe he tried to use on her in hand. Only now he had it pointed towards Cyclops’s neck.

“Scott!” gasped Phoenix, her strength quickly turning to concern.

“Hurry Phoenix! Cut us loose and we can help you,” urged Professor Xavier.

“You won’t move a muscle, telekinetic or otherwise,” said the High Evolutionary, “Not unless you want your wounded leader to become my next test subject.”

“You stick him with that needle and you’ll have more a cosmic power tearing you to pieces,” threatened Captain Freeman.

“Spare me your empty threats. You saw what this did to Beast. Do you really want see what it will do to your wounded friend?” said the High Evolutionary.

Phoenix looked back towards Wanda, Nightcrawler, Captain Freeman, and Professor Xavier. They were just as eager as she was to tear into this man. However, Phoenix was reluctant to call his bluff. She had the power to torment this man in a billion different ways, but she couldn’t use any of them without hurting the man she loved.

“I thought so,” he said with a wry grin.

“You’re only adding to your long list of mistakes,” said Captain Freeman.

“How do you expect this to play out, Wyndham?” questioned Wanda, “You think holding Cyclops hostage will spare you further punishment?”

“Your threats are still empty. I have an entire world with which to fight you, last I checked,” taunted the High Evolutionary, “And in case you’ve forgotten, my transverse electromagnetic modulation thrusters are about to go online. Soon, your world will be gone. Only Asteroid M will remain. No matter how much you oppose me, this is still my world. I’m still in control.”

The High Evolutionary held the needle closer to Cyclops’s neck, further discouraging Phoenix from making any moves. As she gazed into his glowing purple eyes, she sensed what he was capable of. Even with her renewed Phoenix power, there was nothing she could do to stop him.

Every second that passed was another advantage for the High Evolutionary. Phoenix remained paralyzed by his threat to inject Cyclops. Then, something unexpected happened. Cyclops, who to this point looked too wounded to stand, started laughing.

“Ha! Control…you really ought to get those cosmic eyes of yours checked,” he said Cyclops in a tone that sounded very unlike him.

“Your voice…it’s different,” said the High Evolutionary suspiciously.

“Different…yet familiar,” said Phoenix.

As Cyclops continued laughing, Phoenix sensed something new. It had been blocked from her since before this mission even began. Now she could feel it, leaving both her and the High Evolutionary in a rare state of shock.

“It’s as hilarious as it is ironic. Control freaks are the easiest to deceive,” said Cyclops, now in a completely different voice.

While the High Evolutionary was in shock, Cyclops displayed a rare show of flexibility. With renewed strength, he slipped out from the choke hold and kicked the syringe right out of the High Evolutionary’s hand. Then in another uncharacteristically acrobatic move, he delivered a punishing jump kick that knocked the High Evolutionary back towards his computer monitor.

“Argh!” grunted the High Evolutionary.

“Whoa! I didn’t know Cyclops could kick like that,” commented Captain Freeman.

“He can’t,” said Nightcrawler, who already knew the truth, “That’s not Cyclops.”

“Nope! And thank heavens for that,” he said.

They all watched with growing bewilderment as the figure that resembled Cyclops rose up, his poise still frail due to lingering injuries. He then removed his visor, revealing a familiar pair of yellow eyes.

“Mystique!” gasped Professor Xavier.

“You were Scott from the very beginning?” exclaimed Phoenix.

“Yell at him. Not me. This whole crazy scheme was his idea,” said Mystique as she returned to her regular form.

“What scheme?” demanded the High Evolutionary, “And how did you escape my cosmic awareness?”

Despite her wounded state, the shape shifter kept grinning smugly. The baffled expressions from Phoenix, Xavier, Captain Freeman, and the High Evolutionary were so satisfying that they dulled most of the pain she was feeling. Even Nightcrawler and Wanda looked somewhat humored, despite still being stuck in Magneto’s restraints. Their plan turned out to be a lot messier than she hoped. In the end it still worked, ensuring that the High Evolutionary would get an uncomfortable dose of chaos.

“I wouldn’t worry about that as much as I would that fancy gizmo you have in the basement,” said Mystique wryly, “If you weren’t able to see through my disguise, then I doubt you’re aware of what’s going on with the Brotherhood as we speak.”


Asteroid M Lower Levels – Earlier

“Is it time for a post-lunch snack break yet? All this heavy lifting his making me hungry,” said Blob as he snapped the last of the heavy modules into place.

“Just out of curiosity, is there ever a time when you don’t whine about your next meal?” asked Frenzy, who was hauling a similar yet smaller module.

“If you’re going to be working with us, you had best get used to Blob’s appetite. It’s never satisfied. It just gets less ravenous every once and a while,” said Quicksilver as he ran back and forth at high speeds, connecting various wires in the process.

“You think this magnetic shield can protect us from it?” asked Kid Omega, who was using his telekinesis to keep a few smaller components in place.

“I’ll be satisfied if it just shields us from all the bullshit back on Earth. A little peace and quiet will be nice for a change,” said Pyro as he used his flames to weld some panels into place.

“Yep! It’ll be just you and the voices in your head, Pyro. I already fear for our future,” teased Quicksilver.

The Brotherhood’s light-hearted teasing reflected their relatively high spirits. For once, they weren’t tasked with attacking or defending anything. Instead, they were only tasked with making sure Asteroid M operated at full capacity. Being part of Magneto’s inner circle promised many perks within this new world. After so much toil back on Earth, it was a welcome change.

After receiving instructions from the High Evolutionary, Frenzy led Havok, Polaris, Quicksilver, Blob, Pyro, Kid Omega, and Unus through the final assembly of the transverse electromagnetic modulation thrusters. The core of the large seven-story structure was mostly intact. The Brotherhood’s primary task was connecting it to the Warlock generators and installing the primary shell components.

That required a lot of heavy lifting by Frenzy, Blob, and Unus. They installed what they understood to be stabilizers for the shield while Polaris and Kid Omega pieced together an array of metal panels to encase the structure while Pyro did the welding. Havok and Quicksilver took care of the wiring, which was nearly complete. As power started flowing from the Warlock generators, the glowing resonance core from Genosha started pulsating with greater intensity. The promise of being in their own world that was protected by an impenetrable shield was nearly realized.

The Brotherhood were so excited about activating the shield they didn’t notice a glowing yellow portal forming behind a large conduit about fifty yards from the machine. From this portal, three figures emerged. One was Illyana, the source of the portal. She carefully led the other two figures, Cyclops and Angel, through the glowing gateway. They remained quiet as they took in their surroundings and assessed the mission before them.

“It’s just like Mystique and Nightcrawler reported,” said Cyclops as he peered around the conduit, “That’s Magneto’s big gun, complete with the fireworks we saw on Genosha.”

“Great. Can we destroy it already?” said a restless Angel, “Wanda said that Wyndham guy had this cosmic awareness power. He probably knows we’re here.”

“Wanda also said it could be blocked,” said Illyana, “That’s where my magic comes in. It successfully shielded Mystique. That’s almost as impressive as forming a portal on an orbiting space station. Isaac really came through.”

“That means we have to return the favor,” said Cyclops as he adjusted his visor, “You sure you up for this Warren? You were in a hospital bed less than a day ago.”

“Are you kidding? I wouldn’t miss this for the world…well, two worlds in this case,” said Angel with a grin.

“Then would you like to do the honors?” asked the X-leader.

“Seeing as how you were the one that put me in that hospital bed, it’s only fair.”

The winged mutant further defied his doctors’ orders and flexed his techno-organic wings. He took to the air, shooting up from behind the conduit and quickly made his presence known. He flew right over an area where Polaris and Kid Omega were trying to hold the last few panels into place. Leading with his metal wings, he swooped down towards them at high speeds.

“No fucking way,” exclaimed Quicksilver, who noticed Angel immediately, “Lorna, look out!”

“For what? I don’t sense…” began Kid Omega.

“You do now!” proclaimed Angel as he rammed into them.

The strike caught Polaris and Kid Omega completely by surprise. Illyana’s magic along with Emma Frost’s mental shields assured that Kid Omega had no chance of sensing them. As they both fell to the floor in stunned daze, the panel they were holding up with their powers lost its support. Since Pyro wasn’t done welding it, he fell with it.

“Hey! What gives you-WHOA!” exclaimed the Australian mutant.

The heavy panel along with Pyro came crashing down. He narrowly avoided being crushed, landing with a hard thud near Polaris and Kid Omega. He damaged his flamethrowers in the process, ensuring he couldn’t use his fire powers any further.

The commotion quickly riled the rest of the Brotherhood. Havok, Blob, Frenzy, and Unus dropped what they were doing and joined Quicksilver. When they looked up to see Angel flying around, they let out a collective groan.

“X-men!” exclaimed Blob, “Please tell me my eyesight is failing.”

“No worse than your cholesterol, I’m afraid,” lamented Unus.

“How the hell did they even get here?” grunted Frenzy.

“Who cares? Just take him out before he does any more damage!” yelled Havok as he rushed to Polaris’s aid.

Blob, Frenzy, and Unus spread out as Angel flew up higher. They watched as he used his techno-organic wings to rip off the protective shell they had constructed around the transverse electromagnetic modulation thrusters. Since they couldn’t reach him in the air, they each grabbed whatever heavy equipment was still handy. Blob grabbed a large toolbox while Frenzy and Unus grabbed chunks of scrap metal.

“First one to hit him gets a free dinner!” grinned Blob.

“I didn’t leave my cushy job at White Cell to pick up dinner tabs. Bird Drain is dead!” yelled Frenzy.

The three powerful mutants each threw their heavy equipment up towards Angel at high speeds. This forced him to stop his attack on the thrusters and evade them. He wasn’t as fast or as agile as he usually was. The toolbox Blob threw at him struck his left wing, causing him to tumble through the air somewhat. He still managed to stay aloft, but his condition was catching up with him.

“Ugh! Guess the doctors didn’t shoot me up with enough morphine,” groaned the winged mutant, “Anytime you two!”

“You’re the one who volunteered,” reminded Cyclops.

While the three powerful mutants were focused on Angel, Cyclops slipped in behind them with Illyana. He adjusted his visor before firing out a wide-arced blast. It wasn’t the kind of blast that would seriously wound durable mutants. It was the kind that left them stunned and vulnerable to the next attack.

“Errr! There are more of them?” grunted Unus upon feeling the sting of the blast.

“Should’ve been a given,” said Blob.

“I’ll take care of him,” said Frenzy, who shook off the blast, “You guys go back to crushing bird boy before he wrecks the whole damn thing!”

“Trust me, Frenzy. If that was our mission, this wouldn’t be necessary. Right Illyana?” said Cyclops.

“True, but it wouldn’t be nearly as fun,” she said with a mischievous grin.

As Frenzy moved in to attack Cyclops, Illyana carried out another spell. Through the deep concentration she had learned, her eyes and hands started glowing. Just as Frenzy was within striking distance, that same glow shot out from the Russian teenager’s hands and consumed Frenzy along with Blob and Unus. Once this light surrounded them, their powerful bodies stiffened to the point where they looked like statues.

“Hnn…can’t move,” grunted Blob.

“What did…you do to us?” demanded Frenzy.

“Just a spell that would make Shaman and Margali proud,” said Illyana, “Don’t worry. It’ll wear off in about an hour or so.”

“An hour?” exclaimed Unus.

“Consider yourselves lucky. This will all be over by then,” said Cyclops as he gazed up at the imposing machine before him, “Keep an eye on them, Illyana. I’m going to…”

“YOU’RE GOING TO DIE FOR THIS!” interrupted an angry voice.

The X-leader suddenly found himself blind-sided by an angry Quicksilver. He had been tending to Polaris and Kid Omega with Havok. When he saw what Illyana did to the others, he sprang into action.

He ran in at speeds that rendered him a blur to the naked eye, shoving Cyclops away from the machine and pinning him against a nearby transformer. The speedster didn’t give him time to reach for his visor. He went right for the finishing blow, jamming his forearm up under Cyclops’s neck in an effort to choke him into submission.

“I’ve had it with you X-men!” he exclaimed, “Why can’t you just fucking leave us alone? We’re not trying to destroy your world this time. So why the fuck are you trying to destroy ours?”

“Hrrrr!” gasped Cyclops as he struggled for air.

“Cyclops!” exclaimed Illyana.

“It’s okay!” he grunted, “I got this. Just keep…an eye…on the others.”

“As if magic would save your sorry ass this time!” seethed the speedster, “It’s bad enough you corrupted my sister! Now nothing’s going to stop me from…”

Then, Quicksilver was the one cut off. Before he could finish his threat, Angel flew down at high speeds and grabbed him by the leg. The speedster was so enraged that he was too distracted to use his speed to avoid it. Angel quickly flew him several hundred feet into the air, holding him upside down by one leg.

“Whoa! Hey! Let me down, you overgrown feather-duster!” he cried out.

“At this height, nothing would make me happier,” said Angel with a wry grin, “But I think I’ll leave punishing you to Wanda. She’s better at it anyways.”

Quicksilver kept fuming. In that humiliating position, Quicksilver couldn’t use his speed to attack. Not wasting too much time catching his breath, Cyclops set his sights on the transverse electromagnetic modulation thrusters. He refused to be blind-sided again. That meant confronting the last remaining threat, which turned out to be his brother.

Havok had since moved Polaris and Kid Omega to the side where they would be out of the line of fire. They were sore and had the wind knocked out of them. They weren’t in a position to take on this new threat so with focused anger, he confronted his older brother.

“I thought we were beyond this, Scott,” said Havok sternly, “You told me the truth about our father. I was willing to pull back after that, but not this time! Not with Asteroid M!”

“Alex, would it do any good to tell you that this contraption you’re working on isn’t a shield?” said Cyclops as he approached his misguided sibling, “Whatever Magneto or the High Evolutionary told you is a lie!”

“They didn’t lie when they brought Polaris back from the dead,” retorted Havok, “Sorry, big brother. But you’ll have to do better than that.”

“You think she’ll feel the same way once you’re proven wrong?” questioned Cyclops, “Would she even want to live in a world where her own father killed billions?”

“You’re not going to psyche me out, bro! We lost Genosha because of this shit. We’re not going to lose Asteroid M!”

Not surprisingly, Havok refused to listen. He unleashed his attack, firing a punishing energy blast from his hand. Cyclops responded with an optic blast of his own. The two opposing energies collided midway in a burst of energetic sparks, canceling each other out and doing little damage.

Undeterred, Havok used those sparks as cover to confront his brother more directly. He landed a solid punch to the face and a kick to the shin. Still reeling from Quicksilver’s attack, Cyclops shook it off and countered with several punches to Havok’s torso. He aimed right for the ribs, managing to bruise a few of them. Havok tried to land another head shot. Cyclops blocked it and delivered a powerful kick to gut. That sent Havok tumbling back towards the machine, which was just what Cyclops needed.

The two brothers continued to clash. Cyclops saw in his brother a desire to recapture what they tried to build on Genosha. For once, he was fighting for the luxury of not having to fight. It was a change that Cyclops never thought he would see. The revelation about their father being alive along with influence from Polaris had affected him. That didn’t mean he was any less stubborn.

“I don’t have time to convince you I’m right, Alex. Don’t expect me to hold back!” urged Cyclops as he deflected another kick to the shin.

“You were holding back? Could’ve fooled me,” grunted Havok as he went in for another punch to the face.

“I’ve been fooling myself lately,” grunted Cyclops as he blocked the attack and grabbed his brother by the arm, “I’ve deceived my friends. I’ve betrayed both teams. I’ve completely lost control. That means I’m more inclined to do stuff like this.”

While Cyclops had his brother’s arm in a firm grip, he adjusted his visor and fired a single shot. The blast hit Havok right in the face. It didn’t cause any physical wounds since his body was immune to Cyclops’ blast, but it still blinded him in a way that was painful and disorienting.

While in a dazed state, Cyclops leveled his brother with the kind of haymaker he always avoided. He felt a few bones in Havok’s jaw break as he fell flat on his back. It effectively ended the fight, but not without mixed feelings.

“Ungh…” groaned Havok as he coughed up blood.

“Trust me, I didn’t enjoy that as much as you think,” said Cyclops, “You can return the favor later. Right now, I need to complete my mission.”

The X-leader stepped over his wounded brother, ignoring the pain he put him in. He walked by the paralyzed Blob, Frenzy, and Unus. They were still stuck under Illyana’s power. Looking up at the transverse electromagnetic modulation thrusters, he saw in the center the same glowing core from Genosha that started this whole affair. This same core would be the key to stopping this madness.

“Are we ready to shut this thing down?” asked Angel as he flew over, “I’m getting tired of hearing Quicksilver curse me out.”

“Fuck you!” yelled the speedster.

“We’re ready,” said Cyclops distantly as he took out his communicator, “Illyana, start working your magic again. I’ll give Iceman and Moira a call. They should be just about done on their end. I’m sure they’re just as eager as we are to start the fireworks.”

Up next: High Evolution Part 5

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