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Volume 3 -- Issue 50 -- Proposals and Principles

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Proposals and Principles
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In an increasingly hostile world, Professor Charles Xavier and his X-men fight for peace and understanding. At times, however, that fight becomes confounded by personal issues. Between wayward relatives, dark secrets of the past, and relationship issues the team has endured it’s share of drama.

Many of these struggles came to light in a recent confrontation with the mysterious Mister Sinister. In a daring endeavor, he abducted Wolverine and used his healing factor to revive the injured Vulcan. The X-men were able to fight back and stop him, but in the process many startling revelations were revealed. Jean Grey encountered her rival cousin Madelyne Pryor. Scott Summers learned that the powerful mutant Vulcan was actually Gabriel Summers, a previously unknown sibling. And Logan learned that Sinister helped develop Weapon X using alien technology. If that wasn’t enough, he also revealed a new name from his past, James Howlett.

This along with other team affairs has added more difficulty to ongoing conflicts. Senator Robert Kelly continues his bold presidential run on an anti-mutant agenda. However, new hope has arisen in this ongoing political struggle. This hope has come in the elegant form of Lilandra Neramani, someone with whom Charles Xavier happens to have a meeting/date.

Xavier Institute – Charles Xavier’s Room

“Are you sure it looks okay? I haven’t worn this suit since the last election cycle,” said a nervous Charles Xavier as he stood before a mirror with Hank and Ororo.

“For the last time, Charles. It looks fine,” said Hank, with a bemused grin.

“I agree. You look very handsome,” agreed Ororo, “Please stop worrying. You sound like a teenage boy on prom night.”

Charles Xavier sighed to himself as he scrutinized his appearance in the mirror. Tonight was a big night for him. He was having a private dinner with Lildandra Neramani at Lee’s Gourmet Restaurant, one of the most opulent restaurants in New York City. It was a big deal, not just for the institute but for him personally. He had been so caught up with visions from the alien encounter on Genosha that he started negating more immediate duties. He promised his team that he would manage his priorities better and at the moment, the human/mutant conflict took precedence over alien agendas.

In addition, he was looking forward to getting to know this woman. She was both beautiful, bright, and a fellow telepath no less. It was difficult to hide his attraction to her. But considering his history with women, it would probably be wiser to taper his expectations.

“I know. It’s grossly immature of me, but this is an important meeting,” said Charles as he fixed his tie for what had to be the tenth time, “Lilandra Neramani and Aerie Global could be important allies. As the voice of the Xavier Institute, I want to make a good impression.”

”I’m sure that’s the only reason. Why else would you purchase five hundred dollar cologne?” quipped Ororo.

“It’s not like that, Storm. This isn’t a date,” said Xavier quickly.

“That doesn’t mean it won’t turn into one,” she shrugged.

“Even so, I’d like to minimize any potential melodrama.”

“With everything that’s been going on lately, I don’t blame you,” said Hank, “But still, don’t be afraid to mix a little charm with that vast intellect of yours. It can go a long way towards fostering a good partnership (amongst other things).”

“I suppose you’re living proof of that,” said Ororo in a humored tone, “It helped lure me into your bed.”

“Do you hold it against me?”

“Women will make any number of half-hearted excuses for the men who woo them. A little good natured charm isn’t one of them and seeing as how Miss Neramani insisted on having this meeting in a restaurant where they charge for the water, I expect her feel the same way.”

It was somewhat reassuring as Charles Xavier made one final adjustment of his collar. He took a deep breath and wheeled away from the mirror. A quick glance at his watch revealed he had a little less than an hour to go. He tried to stay as calm as the visionary behind of the Xavier Institute should be. But as much as he wanted to keep things simple, that didn’t mean it couldn’t turn into something beyond professional.

“I’ll be sure to keep that in mind,” he told Hank and Ororo, “In the meantime, I’ll leave you two in charge. If anything comes up, please call me.”

“We’ll stand firm should the institute face another unexpected incursion” assured Hank, “Don’t worry about a thing. Just enjoy you’re evening and be sure to give your beautiful buisness partner/date your undivided attention.”

The Professor smiled and nodded as he wheeled himself out, ready to spend an evening with the beautiful Lilandra Neramani. His demeanor was nothing short of comical to Ororo and Hank. They remembered along how smitten he was when he first saw Lilandra back in Philadelphia. There was definitely some chemistry between them. It was still too early to tell, but it seemed promising. Charles was often preoccupied with his work. He rarely took time to enjoy himself and foster relationships outside the team. Someone like Lilandra could be good for him.

“I hope the night goes well,” said Ororo as they lingered a bit, “The X-men could certainly use some new allies and Charles could certainly use some female companionship outside the team.”

“I agree. But I understand why he wants to take it slow,” said Hank distantly, “He has had some rather difficult experiences with relationships.”

“I can’t speak to that. I’ve only heard rumors and I’ve never given much creedance to whispers from my students in between lessons,” said Ororo.

“It’s more complicated than any rumor could denote, that’s for sure,” sighed Hank, “It’s not my place to give details, but Charles has had his share of stable relationships that could have been long term had the circumstances been different and less burdened with cancer.”

Ororo looked at Hank curiously. If his tone was any indication, it was quite a story. Xavier usually didn’t keep secrets from the team, but when it came to his private life he was very tight lipped.

“I see,” she said, “Well even if I don’t ask for details, can you at least tell me if it is too late to take a chance on Lilandra?”

“That I don’t know,” said Hank, “But I suppose we’ll have to wait and see. We have enough relationship issues going on at the moment. You should know.”

“You’re not going to get into that with me, are you?” said Ororo, blushing at his comment.

“As your ex-boyfriend, it is tempting. But I would rather not.”

“Good, because I’d also rather not,” said Ororo distantly.

Hank offered a reassuring smile. Even though he and Ororo were not together anymore, he had a special place in his heart for her. He wanted her to be happy. He wasn’t sure why she was gravitating towards Logan. Then again she seemed to have a fondness for men of a primal side. He wasn’t sure what to make of it because both she and Logan seemed conflicted. He could tell she was thinking about him as they left Xavier’s room.

“On a completely unrelated note, how has Logan been holding up?” said Hank as he walked with her down the hall, “I hear he’s been quite irritable lately.”

“Unrelated indeed,” said Ororo distantly, “Since the Sinister incident, he’s been…struggling. I’ve been trying to help him. So have many others. But between him, Jean, and Scott there are a great deal of personal issues to cope with.”

“Has he been getting better?”

“I’d like to think so,” she said distantly, “But he’s not making it easy for me or anyone else for that matter.”

Lower Levels – Gym

“Run it again!” barked Logan as he puffed away on his second cigar in the last hour.

“Ugh! Isn’t five times in a row approaching torture territory?” said a very tired Bobby.

“Less talking, more fighting!” scowled Logan, “Now do it again!”

“Explain to Remy again why is he taking this out on us?” groaned Remy.

“He’s Logan. Zhis is how he vents his frustration,” muttered Kurt.

“Somebody should teach him to meditate or something because it’s so not working,” said Kitty.

The atmosphere in the institute gym was dominated by exhaustion and frustration. What was supposed to be a simple after-dinner exercise routine had turned into all out boot camp. Logan was not in a good frame of mind to be giving orders. He was tense, moody, and downright pissed. Granted, Logan was always like that to some extent, but this was by far the worst he had ever been.

In the days since the Sinister incident, Logan had been hung up on the latest revelations about his past. It was maddening enough to learn that Sinister made Weapon X possible. Because of his little deal with the Shi’ar, those sick monsters had the technology to take everything from him and turn him into a monster. But as much as he hated Sinister, it was that name he said that really stuck with him. James Howlett had been haunting his thoughts ever since he heard it. He couldn’t sleep, train, or fight without thinking about it. Somehow it was tied to his past. He just wasn’t sure how. And until he found out, he was taking his frustrations out in whatever way he could.

Bobby, Kitty, Kurt, and Remy sighed bitterly as they prepared for another series of exercises. Since Logan already tore up the Danger Room earlier, they were doing more low-tech training. Logan set up some heavy punching bags with electronic targets. These targets represented pressure points on the human body. Their objective was to hit as many points accurately within a set period of time. It was a useful skill, but exhausting to practice. Having already been at it for over an hour, most of the team was ready to call it a night.

“You got two minutes! Go!” barked Logan.

The four X-men did as they were told, pushing through their fatigue and attacking their respective targets with a fury of well-aimed punches and kicks. The targets lit up as they struck them, adding to their score. Logan went along with it, only his bag was specially made to accommodate his metal bones and deadly claws. He growled angrily as he attacked each target, sounding as though he was getting dangerously close to another berserker rage. It was enough to worry the others, even as they tried to concentrate.

“He’s going to lose it on us!” grunted Kitty as she tried to focus.

“He better not! I’m not calling Xavier back from his date to put him under!” said Bobby.

“Just be ready to run!” grunted Remy as he struck several targets in sequence, “It may get uglier than a corcs ass at any second!”

Bobby, Kitty, Remy, and Kurt kept going until time expired. But even after they were done, Logan kept going. He snarled as he relentlessly pounded the bag, not even aiming for the targets. He wasn’t really training anymore. He was letting out some pent up rage that was fueled by echoes from the past.

In an uncontrolled outburst, Logan drew his claws and relentlessly thrashed the punching bag. With a mere several slashes of his claws, he reduced it to bits of leather and foam. He even trashed the high tech sensors, something Hank worked long and hard to create. Even after there was nothing left, he was still raging. All throughout this angry state, that name kept echoing in his mind.

‘James Howlett.’

He was just a half-step behind another berserker rage. But before he crossed that fragile line, he felt the eyes of his students on him. Bobby, Kitty, Remy, and Kurt were all looking at him nervously, taking a defensive posture in case he attacked them. It was then he realized how far he had gone and quickly pulled himself back.

‘Damn it! I did it again!’

Panting heavily, Logan took deep calming breaths as Jean and the Professor had taught him. The rage was still burning, but he shut it out. Once he collected himself, he withdrew his claws and turned to his teammates. They were still looking at him suspiciously, uncertain if he was going to lash out again.

“You done, homme?” asked Remy, standing defensively ahead of Kurt, Kitty, and Bobby.

Logan’s expression hardened, but he was in control now. This time it was going to stay that way.

“We’re done,” was all he said in response.

While the four X-men let out a sight of relief, Logan stormed off. He hated that he had this rage burning inside him over this one name. He hated even more that he was taking it out on his teammates, the only ones who really gave a damn about him in this world. They didn’t deserve to deal with this. They had enough problems with angry humans, corrupt politicians, and secret aliens. If he couldn’t get it together, then he didn’t belong here.

Watching Logan storm off, the rest of the team took a moment to catch their breath. Logan worked them pretty hard, but it wasn’t just for his amusement. He was dealing with a lot of issues to say the least. Sinister just made it worse.

“Wow, I actually thought he was going to make us do it again,” said Bobby.

“Good thing he didn’t. I don’t think I could have lasted another round,” said Kitty, leaning against the punching bag for support.

“He seems to be getting vorse,” said Kurt in a more concerned tone, “I zhink it’s time ve start vorrying.”

“You mean you ain’t started yet? That homme got more issues than a toothless croc,” scoffed Remy, who was rubbing a very sore shoulder.

“Zhese are issues of a very different kind, Remy,” said Kurt more seriously, “Sinister really left his mark on him. Vhatever he told him, it’s not just affecting him. It’s hurting him. And I don’t know if he can handle it.”

“He just needs some time to cool off. No pun intended,” said Bobby as he wiped the sweat from his face with a towel, “If it gets reakkt bad, someone like Jean or the Professor will help him.”

“If they have time,” said Kurt, “Jean’s been in and out of action vith migraines and zhe Professor has his own priorities vith zhat Lilandra woman.”

“And a beautiful femme always takes priority over a moody Wolverine, non?” commented Remy.

“It’s nothing to joke about! Logan is our friend! Or have you forgotten already, Remy?” said Kurt with a touch of scorn.

The Cajun mutant shifted. Kurt knew how to put him on the spot. He figured he liked to single him out because he was so close to Rogue. But he made a point. Logan was a teammate and Remy was not about to turn his back on a fellow X-man as he once did his fellow thieves.

“He needs zhe support of his friends,” Kurt went on, “Even if it means doing more of zhese drills.”

“If you’re going to go after him, you have our blessings, Kurt,” said Kitty, “But I’m not sure we should start reaching out to him just yet. Bobby’s right. It sounds like he needs to cool off.”

“Wow, you actually admit I’m right,” grinned Bobby, “You feeling okay, Kitty? Maybe you’re the one we should worry about.”

“Don’t let it go to your head,” she chided as she maintained a serious tone, “Seriously, this is Logan we’re talking about. We really don’t understand the first thing about what he’s going through.”

Kurt sighed to himself. Kitty was right. As much as they cared for their teammate, there was no getting around the truth. He was a tormented soul who didn’t even remember where much of that torment came from. No matter how much they worried, there was no working around the overwhelming burden of Logan’s past.

“You may be right, Kitty. But ve should still try to get him out of this severely irritable mood,” said Kurt, “It’s better for everybody if he’s only moderately irritable.”

“That’s for sure. If we’re to survive his training regiments, we have to find some way of helping him get over it,” sighed Bobby.

Few argued that as the soreness of five exhausting training rounds settled in. It wasn’t just compassion that motivated them. It was a desire to stay in one piece.

“You think maybe we can encourage Miss Monroe to step up her efforts at seducing him?” suggested Bobby, “She and Logan have been getting a little closer if you know what I mean.”

“That could totally work!” grinned Kitty, “Those two do seem to have some chemistry going.”

“Any chance you could convince her, Remy? You are her ex. You of all people should know what gets her in the right mood,” said Bobby.

That put Remy on the spot again. Only this was worse. Ororo and Logan were somewhat of a sore subject for him. Not just because he was Ororo’s ex-lover, but because he wasn’t sure what to make of it.

“And with that, Remy’s gonna make like a true thief and run for it,” said the Cajun as he walked off.

“Oh don’t be like that! We were just making a suggestion,” teased Kitty.

“It ain’t funny, petite. Remy’s got principles. One of them be don’t joke about setting traps under bedsheets. I don’t make comments on you and iceboy so don’t be joking about Remy and Stormy.”

That helped silence both Kitty and Bobby. They blushed and exchanged glances. Remy sure knew how to turn it around on them. But they didn’t get worked up about it. In fact, they were still smiling. Since the Sinister incident, these comments didn’t get to them as much anymore. They weren’t clashing as much and were actually growing closer. It was still awkward, but not as much as it used to be.

Sensing the awkward moment between them, Kurt took this as a sign that he should step in. It was times like this he was glad to have a stable relationship in his life with Amanda.

“I zhink zhat is my cue as vell,” said Kurt as he gathered his things.

“You’re not going to stick around and add to Remy’s little ploy?” said Kitty.

“Nien, Logan’s issues are enough for me,” he grinned, “I’m sure you two can vork zhat out on your own.”

The German mutant teleported away, leaving Kitty and Bobby alone in a mix of humor and bewilderment. Even when they were sore and exhausted, they still had the strength to put themselves in awkward situations. But compared to what Logan was going through or even what Scott, Jean, and Warren were going through, it didn’t seem so daunting.

“What do you think he meant by that?” said Kitty as she stretched her sore limbs.

“Who knows? I’m too beat to chase them down and beat the answers out of them,” said Bobby, “Right now, the only challenge I’m ready to face is deciding what movie to watch tonight.”

“Sounds like a mission of the utmost importance!” said Kitty in an overly dramatic tone.

“It most certainly is. Would you care to be my backup?”

Kitty looked at Bobby strangely. He had that goofy grin on his face, one that she hadn’t seen much since he broke up with Lorna.

“Are you implying what I think you are, Bobby Drake?” Kitty teased.

“Is that a yes or a no?” he asked playfully.

Kitty moved in a bit closer to him, causing him to blush again.

“If that’s how you want to play it, consider me your wing-girl?” she said with a friendly gesture, “And since Warren’s out meeting with his father, why don’t we raid his DVD stash? I doubt he’ll be in an any mood to yell at us when he gets back.”

“Raid a rich man’s movie collection? After training with Wolverine? You’re a brave woman, Kitty Pryde!”

“Or maybe I’m just ready to face more challenges than you,” she grinned.

Now it was Bobby’s turn to look at Kitty strangely. There was definitely a subtext to her words. Was she implying what he thought he was? Or was she implying something totally different? It was all so confusing, but at the same time it was intriguing. So long as the team was working through personal issues, they might as well confront theirs. That way they would save themselves a lot of trouble.

War Room

Scott Summers spent much of his adult life moving on without his family. Having lost his parents at such a young age, he had to learn how to fend for himself. In an ideal world his younger brother, Alex, would have helped support him and he would have supported him as well. Unfortunately, the reality was much more complicated.

After their parents died, Scott took it on himself to look after his little brother. But Alex didn’t make it easy for him. His method of coping with loss didn’t involve maturing or stepping up when he had to. He coped with anger and bitterness, choosing to fight the world around him instead of rising above it. Scott tried to help him work through it, but he ended up pushing him away. When Scott joined the X-men, it was pretty much the final straw. He went his way and Alex went another way. Scott had gotten used to holding it together without his family. He had no desire to re-connect or get involved with whatever misadventure Alex was caught up in. Alex didn’t care to get involved with the X-men either. So when he learned from Sinister that he had another brother running around, it struck him in a profound way.

Since that fateful confrontation, he spent much of his free searching for more details on his long lost brother. What he found was disturbing and intriguing. Using the computers in the War Room, Scott accessed various public networks in search of more information about Gabriel Summers. Using what he knew about his parents and the rest of his family, he sifted through the clutter to find what he could.

On the main screen, he brought up a brief public document he got from an old police report in Seattle. The details weren’t pretty, but it was his best lead.

“Gabriel Summers. Born in Seattle, Washington. Mother deceased. Father unknown. Last known residence: Claremont Group Home. Known criminal exploits include assault, property damage, and theft. Suspected crimes include arson and manslaughter.”

Further down the report were more details, which further heightened Scott’s suspicions.

“Summers is a known mutant. Abilities include destructive energy blasts. Extent of powers unknown, but medical reports indicate an unstable mutation. Possible threat of hostility and aggression is severe. Known among several local gangs, but has no clear allegiance. No indications of seeking a career in crime. Limited education and limited social connections. Potential development as domestic mutant terrorist severe. Consider forwarding information to FBI.”

It seemed as though Gabriel went a worse route than Alex. At least Alex retained some of the morals their parents taught him when he struck out on his own. That didn’t seem to be the case for Gabriel. The last part was the most disturbing.

“Last reported sighting in Seattle Regional Hospital. Apparent victim of unusual attack that left significantly injured and near death. Possible mutant confrontation likely. Source not known. Unknown man took him into custody. Current whereabouts unknown.”

Scott suspected this was the point where Sinister got involved. He seemed to have a talent for helping certain mutants disappear. If Gabriel was as deviant as these reports implied, he would fit right in with a man like Sinister. Knowing him, he would probably be nurtured into a life of misdeeds. The idea of him being a sort of mentor to Gabriel made him sick to his stomach.

His tireless search yielded nothing more. The date on the report was 10 years ago. Gabriel would have been a teenager at the time. It also would have been after the plane crash that killed his family. Whatever happened during that time must have led him down Sinister’s dark path.

In addition to Gabriel, Scott couldn’t help but wonder why his father never mentioned anything about having another son. Did he even know? If so, why did he hide the truth? Perhaps he planned to tell them when he and Alex were older. Then the plane crash happened and those plans were officially scraped. It seemed like a whole lot of bad luck along with Sinister’s influence. It was a pretty strong recipe for disaster if ever there was one.

Lost in thought, Scott stared at the computer screen in a daze. He was so distant he didn’t notice Rogue entering the area.

“So this is where you’ve been holdin’ up all day?” she said as she approached him, “Dang Scott, you’ve had us all worried! We dang near called the National Guard when you didn’t show up for training.”

Scott heard Rogue clearly, but he didn’t respond. He was still too focused on the report before him. This only seemed to worry Rogue again.

“Scott? Don’t act like you can’t hear meh!” she said in a staunch tone, “You’re mah ex-boyfriend. You ought to know the silent treatment doesn’t work on meh. Now are you gonne tell meh what’s wrong or am Ah gonna have to get rough with you?”

“I’d rather not arm-wrestle you for talking privileges, Rogue. I know I’d lose and you know why I’ve been busy,” said Scott in a monotone voice, “Tell the Professor I’ll make up the training session tomorrow.”

“A little late for that. He left on his date with that Lilandra woman already.”

“Impossible, it’s only…”

But when Scott checked his watch he was surprised by what he saw.

“Quarter past seven,” he muttered, “So that means…”

“You’ve been cooped up in here for five hours,” said Rogue with folded arms, “Congratulations, you’re officially obsessed with whatever the heck it is you’ve been working on don here.”

“You would be too if you just found out you had an older brother who was working for Sinister,” muttered Scott as he closed down the computer.

“Probably, and chances are you would be standing here just like Ah am bugging you about it,” quipped Rogue.

Scott fell silent. Rogue may be his ex, but she knew him pretty well. He usually didn’t let himself get this worked up about something. He prided himself on the ability to suck it up and continue his duties. But when it involved family, even his duty to the X-men took a back seat.

“So…wanna talk about it?” asked Rogue more seriously as she sat on the console across from him, “You’re not the only one with a crazy relative, you know.”

“I’m still trying to make sense of it,” said Scott distantly, “How do you react when you find out you have another brother? Let alone one that’s being heavily influenced by Sinister?”

“Can’t say Ah know, but since you ain’t snapping at everybody like Logan Ah’d say you’re handling it okay.”

“Thanks...I think. It just overwhelming in more ways than I’m used to. Gabriel takes everything I thought I knew about my family and turns it upside down. It’s bad enough I’ve been cut off from them for over half my life. Now it feels as though everything I hoped to avoid is coming back to haunt me.”

“That’s family for you. It finds a way to frustrate the hell outta you,” said Rogue, trying to sound light-hearted.

“It sure seems that way. The problem is there’s so much I don’t know about Gabriel or Sinister for that matter. I have this sinking feeling that there are some details I don’t want to know, but I can’t forget about it no matter what I do.”

Rogue offered her former lover a sympathetic gaze. This was affecting him in a big way. Even when they were dating, she never saw him this worked up. Then again he never talked much about his family. It was a feeling she understood, but only to an extent.

“Ah know how you feel,” she said distantly, “Ah’ve often wondered the same thing about Mystique. Even though she’s mah mama, Ah know she’s kept secrets from meh. Heck, her name makes that damn near unavoidable. Ah’m sure Ah would sleep easier at night not knowing some of them.”

“You might sleep better if you didn’t know most of them,” said Scott.

“Ah guess,” Rogue sighed, “Then there’s mah real parents. Ah’ve often wondered about them and what they were like. Mystique and Irene never told me much about them. Heck, Ah don’t know if they just up and left meh or if they put meh up for adoption or something. With mah luck, it’s probably more messed up than that.”

“Ever wonder how everything would change if you found out?”

“Sometimes,” she admitted, “But it ain’t like knowing would make the world flat. Knowing about your brother doesn’t change who you are or who he is either. No offense, but if he’s friends with Sinister then something definitely ain’t right with him.”

“None taken,” said Scott, “I just wish I understood why. The how, when, and what I can do without. It’s always the why that keeps nagging me.”

“It also happens to be the most frustrating. That’s always been the case with Mystique.”

“I know it is. But still…”

His words trailed off, but Rogue knew what he meant. She had been intimate with Scott Summers enough to know to some extent what made him tick. He had a very analytical mind. He had to make sense of a situation whether it was a mission, a relationship, or a family drama. It was part of what made him a good leader. It was also a part of what made him a difficult boyfriend at times. Having grown up in a world of secrets, she understood what a horrible feeling such uncertainty could be.

“Am I crazy for being this obsessed?” asked Scott.

“Relatively speaking? Nah, you would be crazier if you weren’t,” said Rogue with a reassuring smile.

“Good point,” said Scott, managing only a partial smile in return.

“Have you tried to at least spread out the craziness?” Rogue asked, “What about Jean? Ah’m sure she would understand. After meeting that cousin of hers, she has even more reasons for those psychic migraines of hers.”

“I really haven’t had the chance,” sighed Scott, “Jean and I have never been very good at discussing family issues. We’ve been avoiding it since we got together. Given her conditions, it’s probably not a good idea to dwell on this sort of thing.”

“Doesn’t mean she wouldn’t want to,” quipped Rogue, “Heck, Ah thought she would be the first one you would talk to about this.”

“I will talk to her...eventually,” he mused, “I just don’t know if we’re ready.”

Rogue rolled her eyes. That was another thing that made him a difficult boyfriend. He was just too cautious at times. He cut himself off from others even when he knew full well that he shouldn’t.

“Whatever sugah. Keep tellin’ yourself that if you think it’ll hold you together. Tell yourself twice if you think it’ll help your relationship with Jean,” she said as she got off the table and headed out.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” said Scott, looking back at her curiously.

“If you’re too dense to figure it out for yourself, then it’s no wonder we didn’t work out,” said Rogue, “Just do us all a favor and don’t keep cuttin’ us off, Scott. We got enough problems in this crazy world and only so much energy to solve them.”

Scott still wasn’t sure what she was talking about. It gave him yet another issue to contemplate. He couldn’t forget that he was still the leader of the X-men. His team needed him. No matter how hard it may be, he had to endure this family mess so he could do his job. He also owed it to Jean to try and help her in whatever way he could. She was going through a lot too. He wasn’t being a very good boyfriend by obsessing over stuff like this.

Sighing to himself, Scott powered down the computer. The image of Gabriel Summers still lingered. He found himself staring at it one last time before it disappeared. He had a feeling he would eventually cross paths with him and Sinister again. When that time came, he hoped he would be ready.

‘Long lost brothers, crazy mad scientists, and a struggling girlfriend. Rogue’s right. I really need to pull it together. The team needs me. The Professor is doing his part by going out with Lilandra. I should be ready to do mine, even if I have no clue how and it runs completely counter to my nature.’

Lee’s Gourmet Restaurant – New York

Professor Charles Xavier approached this meeting with a mix of excitement and uncertainty. He had been looking forward to this night with Lilandra Neramani since she first proposed it. There was so much about her organization that intrigued him. There was so much about her as a person that intrigued him. There was much they had to offer one another, both personally and professionally. The challenge tonight was going to be distinguishing between the two.

When he arrived at the restaurant, a waiter led him to a table on the balcony she reserved for just the two of them. It was a very private spot with a great view, almost romantic in a ways. But Charles Xavier tried to dispel such thoughts and maintain a serious, business-like stature. Then he saw her and that quickly changed.

When he first laid eyes on her, he was momentarily stunned. She was truly a sight to behold. She was wearing a very elegant light purple dress that was cut along the side to reveal her shapely legs. Her hair was also perfectly styled, flowing elegantly in waves of black curls. Her face matched perfectly with her figure, giving her an almost regal look. If he hadn’t already been in a wheelchair, he would have stumbled over himself just looking at her.

“Professor Charles Xavier,” she greeted with a warm smile, “At last we meet without the use of a video link. I’m glad you could make it.”

“I’m glad you made such an offer,” he said, trying to keep his professional demeanor, “You look…stunning.”

“Why thank you. But your thoughts hardly do justice to your vocabulary.”

“I’m sorry, am I projecting?” said Xavier sheepishly, “I’m normally very careful with my thoughts.”

“It’s quite alright,” she assured him, “I don’t mind. Not in the slightest.”

The Professor smiled. It seemed being professional was out of the question at this point. She certainly wasn’t approaching this as such. If her stray thoughts were any indication, she was just as intrigued with him as he was with her. The reasons for this were still a mystery. But it was a mystery he looked forward to exploring.

With the awkward greeting out of the way, the Professor wheeled himself up to the table so he was across from Lilandra. The ambiance was very nice. The table was covered in the finest of white clothes and decorated with highly polished silverware. It was made all the more intimate by the two candles in the center and the full moon shining overhead. It provided the perfect environment for them to get to know one another.

“I hope you don’t mind, but I took the liberty of ordering us some wine and appetizers,” said Lilandra.

“That’s perfectly fine. It saves me the time of going over this three-page menu. This way we can focus on more serious matters.”

“Yes, I remember the objective of this little outing,” she said coyly, “While I did propose this as a casual business dinner, we both know there’s nothing casual about it. You’re curious about me and my organization, are you not?”

“Am I projecting again?” asked Charles.

“No, I’m just following your basic line of reasoning. You are, after all, a man of strict logic and keen awareness. One of the most important concepts in discourse is the mitigation of objectivity along with unavoidable subjectivity.”

“You read that from one of my old papers from back at Princeton,” said Xavier, now smiling even more.

“It’s my way of showing you that I’ve done my homework. You and your X-men are public figures last I checked and I always approach public figures with extra scrutiny. More often than not there’s a public face on top of a very private person. Most of the time they don’t match up. Sometimes they’re utterly opposed to one another. But not with you, Charles Xavier. You genuinely walk the walk, talk the talk, and think the thoughts if I could coin a phrase.”

“Does that make me strange in your eyes?”

“I wouldn’t say that. But as I’m sure you know, when you’re a psychic it’s very rare to find someone of such honesty. It doesn’t necessarily make you strange, but it does make you very interesting.”

There was a very flirtatious undertone to her voice. Behind that smile of hers, Charles Xavier saw the same honesty she just described. As both a psychic and a man of reason, he saw in her that unique blend of consistent principle from surface to core. It made her very interesting as well.

She was making a good impression. Lilandra could see that just in his eyes. But while she was off to a good start, she could still sense a touch of curiosity. He was intrigued, but no amount of charm could make him forget a few burning questions he still had.

“I like how you can follow a train of logic in a person,” said Xavier, “That idea is rare even for a telepath. But it isn’t just you that I’m here to learn about. It’s your organization, Aerie, that has me equally intrigued.”

“Yes, I understand you have many questions. That’s a big part of why I wanted to set this meeting up. I wanted you to get the answers from me before you heard something more scrupulous.”

“Are you implying that there are such explanations out there?” asked Xavier.

“When an organization is as big as ours, it’s bound to be. One of the hardest parts of my job is keeping it from collapsing under it’s own weight. It isn’t easy when our very existence is owed to old world wealth.”

“How so?” asked Xavier curiously, “I did research your organization. The details were indeed somewhat limited.”

Lilandra paused for a moment as she took a sip of her wine. She was not one to grant the details of her life’s work to just anybody. She kept certain details on her organization limited for a reason. But if she was to gain the trust of this man, she had to tell him what she could not tell the public at large.

“As I’m sure you already know, Aerie didn’t start off as a human right’s organization. It was in fact the offshoot of a very powerful, but little known technology conglomerate known as Chandilar Enterprise. I assume you’re familiar with the name.

“Chandilar…yes, I’ve heard of it,” said Xavier with more intrigue, “I believe my father had ties to that organization. They helped develop much of the advanced technology I use at my institute.”

“They’ve done much more than that,” said Lilandra distantly, “The company was founded by my father. He was a respected scientist and humanitarian who had many ideas ahead of his time. When he met my mother, who had the people skills to match his intellect, they put their ideas to work and developed some of the most advanced technology the world has ever seen. Much of the advancements are closely guarded. My mother always feared that the technology would be used to make weapons. But through their hard work and unyielding principles, they created a very successful enterprise that has its hands in everything from cars to computers to cell phones.”

“I assume this is how you got the funds to start Aerie?” said Charles.

“Even righteous causes need money,” she shrugged, “Originally, I was going to succeed my mother after she stepped down from the company. But after studying abroad and getting my four Masters Degrees, I wanted to do something else before getting into the family business. And I wanted it to matter.”

“Fighting for human rights would most certainly qualify,” said Xavier in admiration, “It takes a special kind to say no to a world of money and wealth for a cause so much greater than one’s self.”

“I suppose that’s a rare quality we both hold in common,” she smiled, “Like you, I haven’t just seen the plight of the world. I’ve sensed it in the thoughts and feelings of others. My mother used to tell me that I was in a rare position to understand those who are rarely understood. For that reason, I should not fear these grim injustices. Because unlike so many, I have the power to do something about it.”

It was a sentiment Charles Xavier shared with a passion. It sounded as though they were coming from the same line of reasoning. They were unique in their ability to understand and fight the injustices of the world. It wasn’t just because of their telepathy. It was because of where they came from and what they had seen. Like him, she was someone of strict principle. It was the kind of principle he could trust as well as admire.

With this understanding, Charles found himself reaching across the table and placing his hand over hers. Such a gesture made Lilandra smile and blush.

“That’s quite a statement, Lilandra. It says a lot about your character,” he said, “There is much to admire about you and your endeavor.”

“Thank you, Charles,” she said, trying to hide her blush, “Now that you know where I’m coming from, has that laid some of your concerns to rest?”

“I would certainly say so,” Xavier affirmed.

“Does this also mean we can start trusting each other in our ongoing pursuits?”

“Trust is very hard to gain and very easy to lose. But I suppose it has to start somewhere. If you’re willing to take a chance, so am I.”

Lilandra smiled again, but hesitated briefly before answering. She had told Charles the important facets of her life and her organization. But there were a number of details she still kept secret. Even if she was going to trust him, these weren’t secrets she could divulge lightly. In time, maybe Charles Xavier could be that rare man she could open up to and share the more intimate aspects of her life. If they were going to work to that point, they might as well start now.

“Very well then,” she said confidently, “Let’s take that chance!”

“Wonderful,” said Xavier, “I’m sure this partnership will benefit us both.”

“Yes…I’m sure it will,” said Lilandra with another flirtatious grin.

They shared round of smiles. It was a bit awkward, but at the same time it was promising. At around this time, the appetizers arrived and the waiter stood ready to take their order. Now that they had the formalities out the way, they could get down to other concerns.

“I’m glad we’ve worked that out,” said Xavier as he tried to put on his more professional demeanor again, “Now then, shall we order our entrees and move on to more worldly matters?”

“Of course. We do have much to discuss with the recent shifts in current events,” said Lilandra, trying to be serious as well, “Although I am enjoying the personal touch so far.”

“As am I. But we both know there is one issue we can’t avoid.”

“Yes…Senator Kelly’s campaign,” said Lilandra, “I assume you’ve been keeping tabs on that as well.”

“I’ve been trying. Unfortunately, things with the X-men have been a bit…chaotic lately,” said Xavier distantly.

“I sense the details are difficult so I’ll use my imagination. But I’ll be happy to fill you in on anything you may have missed. My sources tell me Senator Kelly has been shifting his campaign tactics. He’s about to make a new proposal to the public to help overcome his recent skid.”

“What kind of push?” asked Xavier intently.

“A very bold one,” said Lilandra ominously, “I don’t know the details, but it involves a man by the name of Reverend William Stryker.”

Senator Kelly’s Campaign HQ – Washington DC

Senator Robert Kelly always prided himself on being a hard worker and a man of dedication. In both his political career and his personal affairs, they were the principles that drove him to be the man he was. He took on the challenge of running for president with the same vigor, working hard and dedicating himself completely to this goal. It started off so promising. He had ridden a wave of anti-mutant sentiment to the top of the polls. But while it got him the nomination, it wouldn’t be enough to take him to the election. For that, he was going to need help.

Since the Philadelphia debacle, the senator watched his favorability rating slip dramatically. Half his interviews and debates now consisted of him defending his rhetoric in spite of that nut who tried to kill him and insight a human/mutant war. Right now, he was being labeled as a pro-war candidate and in this day and age, there wasn’t much of a market for pro-war politicians.

But tonight was going to change that. Senator Kelly recently fired his former campaign advisor and hired someone new. He was a man he shared much in common with and with his resources, he could get back that momentum and get into the White House.

“Thank you very much for making time for this, Senator. I understand you’ve been very busy,” said a tall, middle-aged man with graying hair dressed in a neatly tailored suit.

“I figure if you’re going to be my campaign advisor, I might as well get to know you a little better Reverend Stryker,” said Senator Kelly politely.

“Please Senator, Reverend Stryker is what my congregation calls me,” he smiled, “Call me William.”

“Very well, William,” said Senator Kelly with a smile.

The two men shook hands, hoping this was the start of a promising relationship. They were here after hours in the main conference room. Most of the main staff had gone home. Only his closest advisers remained with him. From now on, William Stryker was going to be one of them.

Hiring Stryker was a risky move. He had little political experience, having spent much of his life as a preacher and pastor. But he held a great deal of influence within the Religious Right and he was very active in public affairs. He had a talent for shaping arguments in both personal and theological terms. Since America was still very much a country of faith and faith was often a campaign issue, Senator Kelly needed the support of religious communities if we was to win this election.

In addition to his preaching, Reverend William Stryker was also a vocal opponent of the mutant agenda. Like him, he spoke strongly about the dangers of the emerging mutant threat. He often used biblical and spiritual references while as a politician he used more pragmatic references. Working together, they hoped to combine the two.

“Now that we’re on a first-name basis, let us get down to business,” said the reverend, “I’m not going to sugarcoat it, Senator. Your favorability rating has slipped through the first two levels of hell.”

“Yes, I’ve been watching CNN as well. I’m well-aware of my current predicament,” said Senator Kelly in a more serious tone, “Ever since that Lilandra woman and her organization stole the spotlight, I’ve been labeled the bad guy.”

“And for good reason,” said Stryker bluntly, “Your rhetoric is defensive and so is your presentation. You’re no longer inspiring people with your speeches. You talk down to them. You come off as giving a lecture instead of a speech. Last I checked people don’t like being treated as children.”

“I’ve never had it put to me in quite such terms, but I’ll trust your assessment,” said Senator Kelly begrudgingly, “Now how do I turn it around?”

“Hold on, I didn’t say that was your only problem. It’s not even your biggest,” Stryker went on.

“I was hoping to take this step-by-step, but if you’re going to tackle the big problems first then I’m all ears.”

“Simply put, it’s fear. You went from rallying people around your cause to scaring people with your cause. Take it from a man who has been preaching fire and brimstone for three decades. Fear only goes so far.”

Stryker didn’t sugarcoat his words or his tone. His criticism was harsh, but Senator Kelly maintained his calm and listened.

“Let me give you a little back story, Senator. When I was first ordained, most of my fellow pastors went out to developing nations and impoverished communities to preach the good word. But I didn’t want to go that route. I thought there were enough lost souls in my own back yard. So I set up shop in the most deviant parts of San Francisco. There I preached outside of gay clubs, strip clubs, and heavy metal concerts. As you can imagine, it was not easy getting my message across.”

“Indeed. You’re a brave man to put yourself in that kind of environment,” commented the senator.

“Brave, but foolish,” sighed the reverend, “I started by preaching the old mantra I was taught, calling people out on their sins and using the prospect of eternal damnation to save souls. It took a while for me to realize that people don’t really go for fear-mongering in a modern, civilized society. It gives the Gospel a bad name.”

“So what did you do?”

“I did what all men of faith have had to do during times of darkness. I followed my spirit to a new way.”

“And what way is that?” asked Senator Kelly with heightened curiosity.

“I stopped preying on fears and started appealing to the real-life problems people faced. I would literally go out of my way to approach someone and get an idea of what their problems were. Sometimes it was drugs, sometimes it was crime, and sometimes it was just outright decadence. Once I knew their problem, I talked to them about how God’s word could help them do better. I gave them actual advice and steps they could follow to save their souls and turn their lives around.”

“And it worked?”

“Better than all the brimstone in hell,” grinned Reverend Stryker, “You see, it’s not enough to tell the lost souls of the world the gloom and doom that awaits them. You have to give them something tangible they can rally around. Because if there’s one thing being in the churches has taught me, it’s that people respond when they feel like they’re getting something for their faith.”

It made a lot of sense. Senator Kelly had always been good with words and rhetoric. He could outspeak anybody in a debate or rally. Usually that was enough to keep his support base strong. But that wasn’t going to be enough this time. He was running for President of the United States. He was going to need more than just words to win over the public.

“I see what you mean,” said the senator as he reflected on his current tactics, “So if I’m going to give the voters something, how do I adapt my message?”

“It’s not the message you need to adapt. It’s the substance behind the message,” said Stryker as he reached into his briefcase and pulled out a pack of documents, “You can speak on the dangers of mutation all you want. But what you really need is something real. Something that will inspire confidence instead of fear…something with a very human face.”

The reverend set the pack of documents in front of Senator Kelly. They were nothing Earth-shattering or top secret. Most of them were crude sketches and hastily scanned documents. But what they depicted definitely caught the senator’s attention. It was unlike anything he had seen before. It was bold and unique. He doubted his opponents or critics had come up with something like this. Most importantly, it spoke to the very heart of his message about mutants being a menace that needed to be dealt with. It also had a very appropriate name.

“The Wide Awake Initiative…where did you get these?” said Senator Kelly as he looked them over.

“A number of sources,” said the reverend, “With all due respect, you don’t need to know. This way when you’re asked, you won’t have to lie.”

“Say no more. I know how it works. But this is…I don’t even know the words. But it’s different. It’s ambitious.”

“But most importantly, it has humanity at it’s heart. That’s what’s going to resonate with the voters. You’re putting power in the hands of the people. And if they feel empowered, they’ll be confident in both your agenda and in your competence as a president.”

“Confidence…just what every president needs,” grinned Senator Kelly as he looked over more documents.

Reverend Stryker smiled at his reaction. He had a feeling he would like this. At this point, the senator needed something like this to get back on top. They also needed to show the mutants and their sympathizers that they weren’t just talk. They were dead serous about protecting their fellow man.

“This is good. I need to personally thank whoever came up with this. But how am I going to use this in my campaign?”

“As a matter of fact, I can help you on both fronts,” said Reverend Stryker with an ominous grin, “The man behind this initiative is here with me. I was going to introduce him later, but now seems as good a time as any.”

Stryker turned around and made his way to the conference entrance while Senator Kelly continued to look over the details. He signaled down the hall for his associate to join him. It looked as though the senator was going to be on board with them through this. If they were going to make it work he should know the man behind it.

Senator Kelly remained engrossed in the documents as the new figure entered. When he looked up he saw another neatly dressed man in a brown suit standing next to Stryker. He was shorter, stockier, and didn’t give off the same godly vibe. If anything he looked somewhat hostile, but if Styrker trusted him then Senator Kelly was obligated to give him the benefit of the doubt.

“Senator, I’d like you to meet Graydon Creed,” said Stryker, “He’s the founder and head of the Friends of Humanity, the only organization of it’s kind that fully dedicates itself to the sanctity of the human race.”

“Please Reverend, my humble organization is just just a collection of concerned citizens,” said Graydon.

“As am I. And in a conflict like this, I could use more allies,” said Senator Kelly as he stood up to shake Graydon’s hand.

“Oh we’re more than just allies,” said Graydon as he eagerly returned the gesture, “As our name implies, we are your new best friends. We’re prepared to dedicate ourselves fully to your election. If, of course, you’re prepared to support our cause.”

“My election and your cause are one in the same, Mr. Creed,” said Senator Kelly with a smile, “If these plans the Reverend gave me are any indication, I think we’ll be able to help each other a great deal.”

“I would hope so, for both our sake,” said Graydon with an ominous grin.

He seemed a bit unscrupulous with how he carried himself, but Senator Kelly saw in him the same determination he so valued. He needed people like him who were utterly dedicated to his cause of protecting humanity and opposing the mutant agenda. Between the three of them, they had desire and the means to do this. The only obstacle was him becoming president.

“The Reverend tells me you’re campaign needs refining. Your constituents need to know you have a plan and if they vote for you, they’ll get what they want,” Graydon went on, “That’s where the Wide Awake Initiative comes in.”

“How exactly is that going to work?” asked the senator.

“It’s already begun,” said Graydon confidently, “The Reverend here has his allies in the churches. He can get for you the value voters that are so important in any election. They helped get Regan elected twice.”

“And he wasn’t even a devout Christian,” Stryker added.

“He didn’t have to be. He had the substance to back up his rhetoric. Now we have that as well,” grinned Creed, “But we can’t just talk about it. We have to really show the people something. Even as we speak, the preliminary stages of the Wide Awake Initiative are underway.”

“It’s already begun? How did you manage that?”

“Through private funding mostly,” said Graydon, “My family fortune helps finance the Friends of Humanity and the Friends of Humanity help finance the initiative. The nuts and bolts of the program are being handled by an organization already versed in the world of mutant affairs. Worthington Industries.”

“Worthington Industries?” said Senator Kelly with a touch of surprise, “How did you talk them into this?”

“I have my methods,” said Creed wryly, “They’re the only organization with the resources to make this work. And so far they’ve made excellent progress.”

“Sounds promising,” said the senator, “But without getting too optimistic here, what if it backfires? Worthington Industries may have resources, but they also have a history of botching big projects. They still haven’t recovered from the outcry over the sentinel deal.”

“Oh you don’t have to worry about that. Neither you nor your campaign is actively promoting it. You’re only taking what we’re doing and using it to show the voters out there that you can give them pragmatic ways to handle the mutant issue. Then once you’re elected, we can take the next step.”

“And what might that be?”

“We take the Wide Awake Initiative to the next level. As a privately funded venture, it is limited. But with government support, it can become the foundation for humanity in dealing with the mutant menace! You’ll be the president who not only led America into a safe, secure future for humanity…you’ll be the president who led the world into a new age! Just imagine what it could mean for you and for the human race as a whole.”

“You make it sound so grand, Graydon,” commented the senator.

“It’s more than grand, Senator. It’s necessity!” he said intently, “You have no idea how personal the mutant agenda is for me. It absolutely sickens me that these creatures are among us! They aren’t just a danger to humanity because of their powers. Their very nature is a perversion of the human form. It is our right and our duty to defend that nature. Mutants are the disease. And the Friends of Humanity is part of the cure!”

Graydon Creed made it sound so pressing. It was almost as if he was seething with anticipation when he talked about leading humanity against the mutant agenda. He was very emotional about it, if not to an extreme. He must have had some kind of personal stake in this. It would explain his gruff demeanor. But Senator Kelly liked his ambition. This could be just what he needed to turn the election in his favor.

Senator Kelly looked over some of the papers again. One in particular that stood out was a sketch of a human in what appeared to be a high tech body suit. It was crude, but the descriptions were rich with promising. If something like this was already in development, it could serve him nicely well after he was elected. He could imagine presenting them before the masses, giving voters something to look forward to once he was in office. Between Reverend Stryker and the Friends of Humanity, his campaign was looking up.

“I’m impressed, Graydon. You and the reverend seem to have done the work for me,” said Senator Kelly.

“We’re just trying to help, Senator,” said Reverend Stryker, “Just let me handle the grassroots affairs, let the Friends of Humanity give you the substance behind your rhetoric, and God willing we’ll get you into the White House.”

“I appreciate your confidence. But let’s not get overconfident. We still have a lot of work to do. And so long as I’m going to be throwing my support behind this Wide Awake Initiative, I want to know as many details as you can give me.”

Graydon Creed and William Stryker exchanged glances. This was going even better than expected. Everything was starting to come together. Soon the mutants would have nowhere left to run.

“Certainly, senator,” said Graydon as he took out a new stack of papers, “As it just so happens, I got word from Worthington Industries that they’ve made great progress. They’re almost ready for a test run.”

“A test run? What kind of test run?” asked Senator Kelly.

“I…won’t bore you with the details,” said Graydon ominously as he sifted through a few papers, “All you need to know is that the Friends of Humanity is taking care of it.”

Worthington Research Facility – Ohio

‘How the hell did my dad convince me to go through with this?’

That one thought had been echoing in Warren Worthington III’s mind all day. What started as an out-of-the-blue call while he was recovering from a hangover had turned into something else entirely. He had gone from planning how he was going to get drunk again to walking besides his father with his hands in his pockets, wearing a nice suit as he followed him through the secure levels of a lone research facility among many.

It all happened so fast. His father claimed his company was working on some bold new project that could have a major impact on human/mutant affairs. He even claimed it was going to become a factor in the upcoming election. It wasn’t the first time his dad made these kinds of claims. Half the time they turned out to be busts. Even when they weren’t, it wasn’t usually a good thing. His father’s poor judgment when it came to mutant affairs didn’t help and because of that he was skeptical.

He almost didn’t agree to this. But then he remembered his conversation with Professor Xavier. He couldn’t keep trying to numb his frustrations with self-destructive partying. He had to step up for the team, even if he didn’t feel ready. He was still fuming at his father for helping Candy Southerner with the old cure program. He had every reason to believe he was going to hate him even more when he heard about this. His father hadn’t given him many details other than it involved certain people he didn’t trust.

“So when are you going to give me the full story, dad? I want to know if I need to update my list of reasons to hate you,” groaned Warren as they made it through the last major security barrier.

“I’m sorry I haven’t been able to tell you everything. The details of this project are a bit…sensitive,” said his father as he led them down a few corridors.

“Which I know is code for being mutant related,” quipped Warren, “You don’t have to be coy with me, Dad. You’ve sucked at it since mom died.”

“I know you want the family company out of mutant affairs. But with the current situation on Genosha and the upcoming election, it’s impossible to ignore. For me not to get involved when it could affect my family would be a failure on my part.”

“Considering your track record on mutant activism, that should be expected,” said Warren dryly.

“That’s going to change. I promise. But doing so in an ideal manner is going to take time. And time is something we just don’t have enough of these days. In the world of business, you often have to get involved in certain affairs as they come along.”

“Exactly how much of this is involvement as opposed to opportunity?” asked Warren skeptically.

“A little of both,” his father replied, “But you being involved will help keep it from getting out of hand this time.”

“That all depends if I agree to get involved. I’m still waiting for you to come clean.”

Warren Jr. sighed as he led his son into an elevator. He shouldn’t have been surprised by his son’s cynicism, but that didn’t make it hurt any less. He also knew about his son’s recent decadence. It was painfully obvious in the way he was tapping his credit cards and spending them on various activities like drinking, strip clubs, and gambling. Any father would have tried to sit down with his son and talk it out. But after his recent transgressions, he had no authority in that regard.

Activities aside, Warren Jr. was willing to look past his son’s immature coping skills. He had high hopes for this endeavor. It was ambitious, but risky. Determined not to fail his son again, he brought him into it through extensive coaxing. It helped that Warren was in a difficult state after his breakup with Candy. Now he had to prove to him that this was worthwhile in addition to distracting him from his heartbreak.

“It all started shortly after Senator Kelly started his presidential campaign,” began Warren Jr. as they rode up in the elevator, “A number of divisions, namely the ones handling sentinel technology, were approached by a group of private investors. They wanted to develop a new kind of mutant containment technology. They called themselves the Friends of Humanity.”

“I’m already not liking this,” said Warren grimly.

“That’s what I thought too. My initial reaction was to show them the door. Then I looked closer at what they were proposing and saw that it had potential.”

“So you went along with them? Seriously dad, how many times to you have to get burned before you stop doing this?!” exclaimed Warren.

“Don’t get the wrong idea, son. It’s not like that,” his father assured him calmly as they stepped out of the elevator, “I looked into these Friends of Humanity a bit further. They’re as bad as they sound. They don’t just want to oppose mutants. They want to wipe them out. And I can’t have that, not with a mutant son.”

“So you accept their genocidal ambitions and agreed to help them? Dad, do you want me to list the ways that’s messed up?!”

“Look at it another way, son. If my company didn’t accept their proposal, someone else would have. Someone we wouldn’t be able to keep tabs on and someone with no personal stake in the human/mutant affair. The way I see it by giving them lip service and letting them do their research, I’m keeping them under my thumb.”

“Funny, wasn’t that your same line of reasoning for the sentinels?” scoffed Warren

“It’s worked so far, hasn’t it?” his father argued, “Aside from that one slip-up with that Sinister character, the sentinels have not been developed for use against mutants. The same can apply to this situation. These people need my resources and my money to do what they want to do. With that kind of leverage I won’t just be able to expose their madness. I’ll be able to turn it against them and turn what could be a catastrophe into something of benefit to this world.”

Warren looked at his father skeptically. His intentions seemed noble, but that’s how all his father’s projects started off. Everything he did since he was a young man was done with the idea that it was for his benefit and the benefit of mutant kind. So far it hadn’t exactly panned out that way and he wasn’t convinced this would be any different.

“Sorry dad, but I’ve heard this all before. This kind of ploy didn’t work before so what makes you think it’s going to work this time?”

“Because this will be different,” said his father with greater excitement, “This time, I’m not going to be overseeing this project. You will.”

Warren stopped in mid stride and looked at his father as if his head just exploded. He couldn’t have just heard what he thought he heard.

“Excuse me? Did I just have an auditory hallucination? Because I swore you just proposed I actually be part of something in this company.”

“You heard right, son,” his father affirmed, “I’m going to allow you to watch over this program with all the rights and privileges I would have if I were doing so. As we both know, when I try to judge a situation I often end up botching it horribly. But you won’t make those mistakes because you have something I can never understand.”

“And what’s that?” asked the younger Worthington, now more curious than ever.

“Perspective,” his father said, “And with that perspective, I trust you’ll know what to do with this authority and how to make the right decision.”

Warren had been left speechless by his father before, but it was never for a good reason. Ever since his powers developed, his father practically barred him from any kind of role in Worthington Industry affairs. He always made an excuse like he wasn’t ready or his ‘condition’ may upset the company. For him to make this kind of offer at a time when he was still fuming at him and the human/mutant conflict was growing worse by the day, it was nothing short of astonishing.

“You’re really serious about this?” asked Warren, still not believing it.

“I’m dead serious,” said Warren Junior, placing a fatherly hand around his shoulder as he led him into a new wing of the floor, “Consider it an offer from me to you, a first step of many towards carrying on the legacy of this family. I don’t expect you to decide right now. First, I want you to see what this project entails.”

Warren followed his father past one more set of doors. Once they were through, they arrived on the observation deck of the facility. From here, they could see down into the main lab area. Even at this hour, it was bustling with activity. Dozens of Worthington Industry scientist and technicians scoured the floor through various arrays of computer equipment, engineering tools, and wires. It was all centered around a circular area that was brightly lit by a series of lights. It was no bigger than a basketball court, but all the attention seemed drawn to that one area.

As Warren took in the sight, he noticed a line figure standing in that central area. He was clearly not a scientist or a technician. It was hard to tell from his current standpoint, but he got the feeling this was what the whole project was centered around.

“Do you know what was the biggest weakness of the sentinels?” his father mused.

“You mean other than being lumbering, mindless killing machines?” quipped Warren.

“You’re partially correct. They were indeed machines. Cold, calculating, self-regulating machines. They had no sense of judgment. They did just as they were programmed to do, hunt mutants and take them out. It’s the same weakness that all machines have. They are incapable of approaching a situation and understanding it on a personal level. They can’t distinguish between some poor mutant that can’t control their powers and a homicidal madman like Magneto. So if the technology is ever to have a positive application in the human/mutant conflict, it needs a sense of humanity.”

“I’d prefer a trash compactor, but I guess that can work,” said Warren dryly, “How exactly do you put humanity into a machine like the sentinel?”

“Simple,” said the older Worthington as he brought up a new image screen, “By building the machine around the human and not the other way around.”

The image that came up brought the figure in the center of the room into focus. Warren could now see the full detail of what this project was about. And what he saw both shocked and intrigued him.

Now standing in the center of the research area, the figure stood tall while a number of scientists and technicians worked the computers. It was revealed to be a normal-looking man with the same height and build as Warren. He had a crew cut, a clean-shaven complexion, and a proud poise. He was definitely a soldier of sorts, but what really stood out was the attire he was wearing. All over his body, there were plates of amour that looked just like the outer shell of a sentinel. But the resemblance didn’t stop at appearance. The armor had the same wrist-mounted laser cannons and the ominous chest plate where the main weapon was housed. The area around the feet was bulky too, indicating it had the same flight capabilities.

Warren wasn’t sure what to make of it. It looked like a sentinel, but with a man inside instead of wires and computers. His entire flesh was surrounded except for his head. Having stared down sentinels before he got the same ominous vibe from it, but something about it was different.

“State your name and title, sir,” said Warren Jr. over the intercom.

“Sebastian Gilberti. Captain. Test pilot. United State’s Air Force,” he announced proudly.

“Tell us what’s going on,” the older Worthington continued.

“We’re about to test the new sentinel interface. With plans contributed by the Friends of Humanity and funding from the fine people at Worthington Industries, we have what we hope to be the next step in human enhancement..”

“Very good, Captain Gilberti,” said Warren Junior, “Now show us what you can do.”

“Yes sir!”

Warren Jr. gave the signal to his team and they quickly got the message. The central area was cleared and several sirens sounded to signal the workers that a test was about to commence. For Warren Worthington III, it was a disconcerting sight. But he watched intently.

Once the area was cleared, Sebastian Gilberti was ready to begin. Several technicians issued the final commands on a nearby console. Once they were in, the armor surrounding the lone figure powered up.

“Power-up sequence initiated,” said one of the technicians, “Begin test on Prototype.”

Sebastian grinned as he started the test. In a sharp burst, he ignited the boosters in his feet and took to the air like a sentinel. The ignition was loud, causing a lot of observers to flinch briefly. But they all kept watching and Sebastian started putting on a show.

He started by flying around in various formations in the spacious research area. He was fluid and graceful, showing much greater control than the mindless sentinels. He looked like he was having fun too. It seemed to give him quite a rush. He then flew around the outer areas of the research arena and showed a few tricks the original sentinels didn’t have. Using the sentinel components, he literally ran along the sides of the wall and dug his hand into hard rock to hold himself up. Then in a show of even greater agility, he did several mid-air flips before igniting the boosters again. From there he flew around in ever more daring maneuvers, swooping down at times and even grazing a few of the bewildered scientists.

“Yeah! Bet a sentinel can’t do that!” he exclaimed proudly.

“Please be careful, Sebastian!” one of the technicians called out.

“Careful?! Not in my job description! Let’s give this thing’s firepower a test run!”

A few workers backed up even more as Sebastian flew back to the central area where he hovered about ten feet off the ground. More sirens went off, signaling the next part of the test. Sebastian looked intently focused, gazing around with an almost predatory glance. When the sirens stopped, the test began.

Right behind him, a billboard shot up from a slit in the floor. It depicted Magneto, the most feared mutant in the world. Without hesitation, Sebastian shot around and fired off the wrist-mounted blaster on his armor. A powerful red laser, just like the one the real sentinels used, shot out and scorched the target right around the head. It was a perfect kill shot. Other billboards soon shot up as well, depicting various mutants of various characteristics. Sebastian skillfully turned around and shot each one with the same lethal accuracy, showing that this armor could be very lethal.

But the test also had a few twists. As more billboards shot up, some of them didn’t depict mutants. They depicted humans or non-threatening looking mutants. When Sebastian saw these, he hesitated briefly. He still shot off a few round and grazed a number of targets, but none of them were of the lethal variety or so it seemed. It was that extra humanity and judgment that Warren Jr. had mentioned. Where a normal sentinel would have kept going without remorse, Sebastian made better judgments.

Once all the targets were taken out, the final part of the test began. On the other side of the lab where most of the area had been cleared, one last target emerged. It didn’t depict a mutant. It was just one large bulls-eye. When Sebastian saw this, he activated the main weapon in his chest. While still hovering in mid-air, the plates on his chest opened to reveal a larger cannon similar to the ones Hodge put into the original sentinels. Like that same weapon, it charged up with a powerful green energy. As it charged, it glowed brightly. Once fully powered, Sebastian unleashed the blast. When it hit the target it erupted in a burst of sparks that didn’t cause it to explode, but literally crumble. It wasn’t as destructive as the original weapon, but it was every bit as potent.

With the final target destroyed, the test was complete. Sebastian looked as though he hadn’t even broken a sweat. The scientists and technicians look astonished, but satisfied. The ones with Friends of Humanity emblems on their uniforms were especially impressed. This turned out better than they could have hoped.

“Wow…what power!” said Sebastian breathlessly, “I like this suit! If you’re going to be using this in the field, sign me up!”

“We appreciate the enthusiasm, Sebastian,” said a scientist with a Friends of Humanity emblem on his lab coat, “But we still have a lot of work to do before we fully deploy it.”

“Whatever you say, doc. I’m ready for more!” he said, still caught up in the rush, “Only next time, how about we call this thing something more official? Like my old call-sign in the service…Bastion!”

“Very well…Bastion,” said the scientist, “I look forward to further testing.”

“So do I,” he grinned.

Up in the observation deck, Warren Worthington III stood dazed and unnerved by what he just saw. This one man flew around wielding the power of a sentinel, showing the same lethality only with a more human touch. In a ways it vindicated what his father said earlier about the sentinels. They were indeed limited by their lack of humanity. This ‘prototype’ as they called it put a new twist on it. He wasn’t sure what to make of it.

Looking down at Sebastian, he saw mixed results underneath the success. On one hand he proved he could distinguish between friend and foe, making the right judgments of a human to protect the innocent. But at the same time it was putting a lot of power in the hands of a man. He could tell just from Sebastian’s demeanor that it affected him on a psychological level, something he doubted the researchers were taking as seriously. The Professor always taught him that power was a corrupting force, especially in the hands of those not prepared for it. Putting power in the hands of people like the FOH, even under Worthington Industry control, was a dangerous prospect.

The winged mutant looked at his father with outrage and suspicion. He was still looking down at Sebastian, not showing the same exuberance as the rest of his workers. It was always hard to tell with him, but it almost looked as though he was concerned. He knew what he was getting into and he had no confidence in his ability to handle it. Warren was beginning to understand why he wanted him to lead up this operation.

“So what do you think, son?” his father asked him.

“I think Iron Man is going to sue us for copyright infringement,” said Warren dryly.

“Is that a yes or a no?”

His father was putting him on the spot. He needed a decision and Warren couldn’t afford to take it lightly. There was so much about this and these Friends of Humanity people he didn’t like. He hated that his father was getting into business with them, even if it was to keep an eye on them. He had so many reasons not to trust him. He hurt him and mutants everywhere with his past endeavors. But this was a unique opportunity.

For the first time his father was trusting him with something big. This could have a major impact on the human/mutant conflict. To leave it in the hands of people like his father or the Friends of Humanity was out of the question. He spent years in the X-men trying to distance himself from his family. Now he had a chance to get back in and do something important. For the sake of many and his duty as an X-man, his choice was clear.

“Yes,” Warren finally answered, “Now let’s go over how I’m going to do this.”

Next Issue: Stirring Outrage

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