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Volume 3 -- Issue 52 -- District X Part 1

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District X Part 1
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The human race is on the cusp of the next stage of evolution. A new breed humans are emerging with extraordinary powers. Those such as Professor Charles Xavier and his mutant team, the X-men, seek to use those powers for good in a world that hates and fears them. But there are others who see this evolving trend as an imminant threat.

In wake of Magneto’s takeover on Genosha, the world is wary of the growing mutant population. Among those worried is presidential candidate Senator Robert Kelly. Recently, he enlisted the help of Graydon Creed and his organization, the Friends of Humanity. These radical anti-mutant crusaders seek nothing less than the full elimination of the mutant threat. They have already gained Senator Kelly’s trust. Now they seek to make a bold statement with a program they call the Wide Awake Initiative.

At the heart of this program is a prototype weapon that puts the power of the mutant hunting sentinels in the hands of a human. It has shown promise, but the Friends of Humanity seek more. In a daring move, they abducted and brutally assaulted a young mutant named Pixie and delivered her in a shady area of New York City known as District X. This area is dominated and run by mutants who have carved out their own community within the city. Such brutal tactics of the Friends of Humanity have them up in arms and seeking retribution, which may end up playing directly into Graydon Creed’s hands.

District X – The M Building

Alex Summers had a lot of reasons to be angry. He was orphaned at a young age, he spent much of his childhood having to be protected by others, and even after his mutant powers manifested he had always been held back. He was always driven, believing that he could be more than some helpless boy who needed to be protected by others. He had grown into a fighter, never backing down from a confrontation. That’s part of what led him to District X.

This small collection of city blocks nestled in some of the most run-down parts of New York City was its own self-contained world. Here, there were no humans running the show. It was all mutants. They had their own community complete with laws and authorities to enforce them. That made this small area an oasis in a sea of anti-mutant fervor. Mutants could live a semi-normal life apart from humans, but still have access to human amenities. It was a tight-knit community that kept a low profile, except when humans looking for trouble ventured into their territory.

Most of the time when a human ended up in District X it was a mistake. They were always quickly pushed out and reminded firmly not to make the same mistake again. Then there were those who came to their territory to start trouble. This was where Alex played a major role. Part of his job was to take care of these would-be troublemakers. Usually, he was able to hold his own. But this time, it hadn’t been enough to save Pixie.

“I can’t believe those assholes! How could anyone call themselves a decent human being and do this?!” exclaimed an enraged and saddened Jubilee as she stood over the bed of the unconscious Pixie.

“Don’t start crying on us, girl. Tessa says she’s gonna be okay,” assured a more stoic Bishop.

“I’m not crying! I’m pissed off!” spat Jubilee through her obvious tears, “We didn’t beat those clowns up enough! They could’ve killed her for crying out loud!”

“But they didn’t. That would be too easy,” said Bishop in a low tone, “Them fools wanted to send a message. They were calling us out, saying they’re ready to throw down.”

“And we’re going to answer that call, right?” said Jubilee in a more determined tone.

“Damn straight we are! But not until we know more about these Friends of Humanity chumps. Something about these fellas doesn’t feel right. They tossed Pixie right on our doorstep for us to find. They may not just be looking to throw down. They may be looking to set a trap!”

It was an ominous prospect, one that they couldn’t afford to ignore. But it was hard to set aside their outrage as they looked over the unconscious body of Pixie. She was still alive, but badly bruised. The District X community managed to come together and help treat her. They bandaged her up, got her some meds, and stitched up her wounds. It was going to be a while before she could fly again, but she was going to be okay.

It should have been a relief, but Alex didn’t see it that way. Lucas Bishop, or just Bishop as everyone called him, had always been a suspicious man. That was part of why the community made him leader of the District X neighborhood watch. He worked closely with Tessa, a woman with a psychic abilities and a computer-like brain. She was one of the founders of District X. Supposedly, she used to work for this really wealthy company and utilized some of her old connections there to set up District X. But Alex always found her too cold, never getting emotional when she should.

The same could be said for the other major players in the neighborhood watch. Jamie Madrox, or Multiple as they called him, was another founding member who worked closely with Tessa. Thanks to his mutant ability to make clones of himself, they had the manpower to keep things running smoothly. Jubilation Lee, or Jubilee as they called her, was a newcomer. Like him, she was an orphan and a runaway. She used to live in a nice foster home, then her foster parents died in a boating accident and she struck out on her own. She was strong-willed and tough for her age, having always been somewhat of an independent spirit. But she had a tendency to make herself vulnerable, something they couldn’t afford in their line of work.

“Forget traps, Bishop!” spat Alex, no longer able to keep his silence, “These guys stepped onto our turf, hurt one of our own, and enjoyed themselves doing it! The only thing they want from us is a fight! I say we give it to them!”

“No Alex. Bishop has a point. This doesn’t feel right,” said the always stoic Tessa, who was sitting at a nearby desk typing feverishly on a computer array.

“Who cares how it feels! Once word gets out they’re beating our people half to death and getting away with it, nobody here will feel safe!”

“Cool your jets, Summers. It’s not like they got away with it totally,” said Jamie, who was casually leaning on the desk next to Tessa, “We did rough them up a bit and tie them to some street posts back in East Harlem.”

“We stripped them to their underwear, wrote on their faces, and dumped garbage on them,” added Jubilee, “It was satisfying, but not nearly enough.”

“Not remotely!” scoffed Alex, “We should have done more to show that District X is not their playground!”

“So what would you have done? Kill them?” said Bishop, “You know that’s not how we do things! We start killing humans and we give the cops all sorts of reasons to destroy everything we’ve built!”

“We can take them!” urged Alex.

“Now you’re just being delusional,” scoffed Jamie, “We’ve got what? Six billion humans to just a few hundred mutants in District X? Even I can’t clone myself enough to even those odds.”

“To hell with the odds! We have to fight back or Pixie won’t be the only victim!”

Alex’s raging rant was irrational and overly emotional, as were most of his rants. But he had a point. They did have to fight back in some way. Part of their job in District X was to make sure the people in their community felt safe. Pixie’s dire condition constituted a major failure in that job. There was little doubt that the Friends of Humanity would not be content with one victim.

“I’m feeling you, Alex. Really, I am,” said Bishop in an honest tone, “But we got us a bad situation up in here. We knew we was gonna catch heat as that Senator Kelly chump ran for office. We make the wrong move and we’ll only be helping that sucka!”

“If that’s the wrong move then what’s the right one?” said Alex skeptically, “Seriously, Bishop, I’m all ears! If we’re not going to call these assholes out, what are we going to do?”

“I don’t know, okay?!” exclaimed Bishop, “That’s why we gotta plan carefully here! Or it’s gonna blow up in our face!”

“As if it already hasn’t,” muttered Jubilee as she gazed over Pixie.

“No Jubilee, it hasn’t,” said Tessa, who was still typing, “This was not an all out assault. It was a small incident. It was meant to be small. For now, we should keep it that way.”

“In the meantime, we fortify our boundaries and strategize,” added Jamie, “If the Friends of Humanity are planning to step it up, we better be ready for them.”

“In other words, we’re going to do jack shit,” muttered Alex.

Bishop, Jamie, and Tessa all rolled their eyes at Alex’s remarks. They knew they were getting a bit of a troublemaker when they brought him into the M-Building, which is what they called their main headquarters. Alex Summers had a history of being confrontational. It landed him in Juvenal Hall and he probably would still be there had he not broken out and ended up in District X. That fighting spirit made him tough and driven, but it also made him arrogant.

Whatever their plan, or lack thereof, Alex Summers wasn’t buying it. This wasn’t just a bunch of bigoted humans with nothing better to do. This was a coordinated assault meant to strike at the heart of the mutant community. These Friends of Humanity goons wanted to send a message to all mutants, not just District X. If that was the kind of trouble they were looking for, that’s what they would get.

“To hell with your strategy!” scoffed Alex as he stormed out, “I’m going to get the word out. They have a right to know what’s going on. And once they find out, we’ll see just how strategic they’re willing to be!”

“Alex don’t!” urged Jubilee.

But it was too late. The door slammed and Alex Summers was gone. It left Bishop, Jamie, Tessa, and Jubilee frustrated and worried. If Alex started stirring unrest, they would have problems that went beyond the Friends of Humanity.

“That fool is gonna get us all killed!” grunted Bishop.

“Should I go after him?” asked Jamie.

“As if you can make enough clones to stop Havok when he’s in a mood?” scoffed Jubilee.

“I can at least try to beat some sense into him,” said Jamie as he snapped his fingers and made a few clones.

“Alex will have to wait. We have much more pressing concerns,” said Tessa, cutting the conversation off as she stopped typing.

“What do you mean? You find something on these chumps?” said Bishop.

“Not quite, but we may have our first clue.”

Bishop, Jamie, and Jubilee crowded around Tessa’s computer array. As a woman with a computerized mind, she had a talent for hacking and networking. It was her talents that allowed them to fudge police reports, push through government documents, and cover their tracks as they kept District X running. This way the authorities couldn’t keep tabs on them and find some excuse to shut them down. In addition, she did background checks on both mutant and anti-mutant groups to see if they would be a problem. For this, the Friends of Humanity definitely qualified.

On one of her many screens, she had the Friends of Humanity official website up and on a few others there was what appeared to be computer jargon. None of them could understand it, but to Tessa it was as easy as reading the alphabet.

“Apparently, the Friends of Humanity have been ramping up their PR machine,” Tessa explained, “Since they joined forces with Senator Kelly, they’ve been very active. According to their own website, they have a number of ‘public events’ planned to bring their cause into the public eye.”

“Can we assume ‘public events’ is just their way of saying they’re going to stage another clash with mutants?” said Jamie.

“Most likely, but that’s the public side. The private side is much more interesting,” said Tessa as she turned her attention to one of the other screens, “I’ve been hacking through the entry logs and following some names. These guys are good at covering their tracks, but I’ve picked up on a few slips. One that keeps coming up is something known as the Wide Awake Initiative.”

“Sounds like an ad campaign for Starbucks,” commented Jubilee.

“Given the secrecy surrounding this project, I doubt it involves the usual advertising,” said Tessa, “But whatever it is, the attack on Pixie was just the first step.”

”So then what’s the next step?” said Bishop.

“I don’t know yet, but I’m going to find out. And I think I know someone who can help,” said Tessa as she started typing again.

“Well find out soon,” said Bishop anxiously, “We got us some bad shit going down. If the Friends of Humanity doesn’t make it blow up in our face, Alex sure will!”

Xavier Institute – Scott’s Room

It had been a long time since Scott looked at old pictures from his past. Much of his life before the X-men was something he would rather forget. But for reasons beyond his control or understanding, he held onto the few pictures he had been able to salvage from those dark times. After his parents died, he and his brother Alex were shipped off to an orphanage. From there, bad circumstances made everything worse. He shuttered to contemplate what he may have become were it not for Professor Xavier, but at times it helped to remember where he came from.

Sitting on his bed, he flipped through a few old pictures of him and Alex. They were taken while they were still at the orphanage. He looked so different back then. He was shorter and thinner, looking weak yet maintaining a strong poise. Alex was always with him and as his older brother, Scott always tried to protect him. Alex didn’t always appreciate it. He wanted to prove that he could take care of himself. Doing so usually got him into trouble, but he was usually able to keep him in line. Then it all went so horribly wrong and their lives took very different turns.

For years, Scott tried to move beyond the rift between him and his brother. He built a new life while Alex went his own way. He tired to keep his brother in the back of his mind so it wouldn’t interfere with his duties as an X-man. But after his encounter with Gabriel, he found himself dwelling on Alex a lot more.

‘Why did it have to be like this? Why couldn’t you just trust me, Alex? We could have been a great team here at the institute. But you just had to keep trying to prove yourself. You had to stay and keep fighting your own battles. Damn it, why did you have to be so selfish! Why do all my brothers hate my guts?’

As he lamented over the pictures, his bedroom door quietly opened and a new presence broke him from his thoughts.

“Hey there, stranger,” greeted Jean, “Penny for your thoughts?”

Scott didn’t look up, but still acknowledged his lover’s presence.

“Hey Jean. Feeling better?” he said in a low tone.

“I’ve had worse days, but there’s always room for improvement,” she said as she made her way to his bed, “So what’s up? Usually when I say ‘penny for your thoughts’ you can’t resist pointing out the irony.”

“Sorry, guess I’ve been a little off lately.”

“Only a little?” she scoffed, “Scott, you’ve been climbing back into that shell of yours and getting way too comfortable. You’re not just worrying me. You’re worrying everybody on the team. You know I’m still here, right? I’ve been pretty messed up too and I don’t like it when we both use that as an excuse not to push each other away.”

Jean’s tone was somewhat harsh. It had to be for Scott to get the message. With folded arms, she stood in front of him. At first she scolded him, but the distant look on his face made it difficult to stay too mad. He was hesitant to speak, which was expected given his reserved nature. This involved family and as Jean knew from her own experience, that was something that needed to be handled with extra care.

“It’s been a while since I’ve seen those pictures. Should I be even more worried?” she asked him.

“I’m not sure I want to talk about it, Jean,” said Scott distantly.

“I can’t say I blame you, but maybe you should none-the-less? I hate seeing you like this and I’d rather put in the effort to not make it worse.”

“You don’t have to get involved in my family affairs, Jean. You have enough on your plate as it stands.”

“I’m willing to make room for you, Scott. Are you at least willing to let me add to my stress on my own terms?”

Scott was silent for a moment. Jean made it clear that she wasn’t going to let him sulk. He looked up into her gaze. Her scorn had given way to a more compassionate look. It was a look that was hard to turn away from. In some ways it was frustrating. He would rather confront Magneto twenty times before confronting family issues like this. Never-the-less, he found himself talking it out.

“I really don’t know why I’m doing this to myself,” he said, “These pictures have been gathering dust in my drawer these past few years. I’ve avoided looking at them at every turn. Some days I just want to burn them. But for some reason, I keep coming back to them.”

“I know the feeling. Some days I wish I could drop napalm on my whole family photo album. Then I remember that destroying photos don’t erase the memories,” said Jean as she sat down on the bed next to him, “At least you have halfway decent pictures of you and your brother. I don’t think I have any of me and Madelyn aside from her mug shot.”

“You may be lucky in some ways,” said Scott, “These pictures were from a different time. They’re a reminder of what Alex and I once had as brothers. They’re also a reminder of how I let it fall apart.”

“You can’t blame yourself that much. We can only control our messed up lives to a very limited extent.”

“But it is my fault. I had any number of opportunities to make things better and I botched every one of them. It’s gotten to a point where we can’t even be associated with one another. It’s been years since I’ve even looked him up. For all I know he’s still in Juvenile Hall.”

“Who knows? Maybe he’s gotten his act together in that time,” Jean offered, trying her best to sound hopeful.

“I was hoping he would eventually mature as he got older. But after finding out about Gabriel and seeing what he’s become, I can’t help but wonder if Alex is heading down that same path.”

“Somehow, I doubt that. From what you’ve told me about him, Alex sounds too headstrong to get involved with a nutcase like Sinister. Hell, he would drive Sinister crazy with his attitude. So I don’t think you he’ll go Vulcan on you.”

“I wish I could be that optimistic. Alex may not end up exactly like Gabriel, but that doesn’t mean he won’t get caught up in something that he can’t handle,” Scott mused, “Given Alex’s pig-headed nature, it won’t take much for him to lose control. It seems like that’s a defining Summers trait. We focus on one thing, but lose track of something more important.”

“Oh I wouldn’t say it’s a defining trait,” said Jean, offering a reassuring gesture, “Even if it was, you’ve bucked the trend…for the most part anyways.”

“Yeah…for the most part,” sighed Scott, thinking back the many times he made that same mistake on a mission or in his personal life, “But with Gabriel under Sinister’s thumb, he’s essentially a lost cause. And if Alex is still as immature as I remember, he may be no better off.”

“Even if he is, you can’t beat yourself up over it. Just like my degenerate cousin, they’ve made their choices. We can’t unmake them at this point.”

“That doesn’t change my responsibility for them. I lost control over the situation with Alex. I never had any control over the situation with Gabriel to begin with. And I just don’t know how to handle that, Jean. I can handle so many other issues in my life, but when I can’t even control my own personal affairs it really messes with me.”

It was another one of his defining traits, craving control of a situation that was painfully beyond it. This was a trait that frustrated him and his lovers. There was little reasoning with him and Jean didn’t have much to offer. It would have been easier to just give him some space, but in the spirit of enduring the less pleasant aspects of a relationship she decided to stay. Jean rested her chin on his shoulder and offered her warmth. It seemed to help, but he couldn’t stop staring at the pictures. He was now caught up on one, which was taken shortly before Scott joined the institute. In it a young teenage Scott was protectively looming over a younger and annoyed looking Alex. It looked like a normal moment between two brothers, but even Jean could see there was so much more to it. She couldn’t change it, but like the lost cause that was her cousin Madelyne she could accept it.

The picture seemed to symbolize everything that went wrong with him and Alex. Scott remembered it vividly. This was just before it all started going downhill with them. They each had a choice to take a different path. Scott pressured him into following his. This only drove a wedge between them that had yet to be bridged. Looking back on it, maybe there was something he could have done different. Even if there was, it was too late now.

“Maybe this is just my migraine talking, but I don’t think you should give up on them,” said Jean before he got too lost in the photo, “They’re still family and you have much more going for you and Alex than I ever did with Madelyn or my father.”

“I don’t know, Jean. Didn’t you once say family qualms had even less hope than humans and mutants living peacefully?”

“Okay, so maybe I’m not an authority in that respect,” said Jean sheepishly.

“You think?” said Scott with a half-grin.

“Well one of us has to have faith,” she chided, “It’s not healthy for both parties in a relationship to be miserable.”

“You’ve been talking to Kurt again, haven’t you?”

“Maybe a little,” she grinned, “It’s the best we can manage, even if we think it isn’t enough. The problem is we often try to handle these crazy personal affairs on our own. We don’t like the idea of ceding control or faith to others.”

“Is this your way of asking me to share the burden? Even when you know how I feel about that?” asked Scott in a more serious tone.

“You’ve tried to handle these things on your own and so have I. And look how well that worked out with past relationships. I love you, Scott. But don’t you think we should avoid doing what has failed in the past?”

“Of...of course,” he said through a somewhat strained tone.

“Then let’s at least try to share each other’s misery and have faith when one of us is clearly lacking. When you have homicidal cousins and pounding migraines, a little extra faith goes a long way.”

Jean was putting him in an uncomfortable position. The idea of sharing these personal burdens did not sit well with Scott in the slightest. He went out of his way to avoid this sort of thing with previous relationships. Then again, both those relationships failed. Turning away from the picture and looking into the eyes of the woman he loved, he found himself at an impasse. Jean was willing to endure these difficulties. He wasn’t sure if he was ready yet.

However, her uncanny ability to have faith in the face of migraines and crazy cousins was uncanny. Even if he was conflicted about how to deal with this, he took comfort in her ability to love him even when he was being difficult. For that, he owed her more than just faith.

“I can’t promise I’ll stop worrying you, but I’ll try to work up some faith of my own,” sighed Scott.

“That’s all I ask,” she said with a smile.

“But if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather not talk about this anymore.”

“Okay, I’d rather not well too much on it either,” said Jean, “We just know a conversation about Alex or Gabriel is going to end up going back to Maddie.”

“And I know how cheery you get when that comes up,” said Scott.

“But if we’re going to be together, that’s something we’ll have to get through,” Jean reminded him.

“I know. But if it’s all the same to you, Jean, I’d rather it be later than sooner.”

Jean shifted as she watched Scott put away the pictures. She was reminded of her conversation with Kurt the other night and how she worried over her relationship with Scott at times. These family issues had come up before and chances were they would come again. It was sure to be a work-in-process. They couldn’t expect to deal with everything all at once. They only opened up about it to a point. It was one of those limits on their relationship they were still working on.

The look on Scott’s expression remained grim. Jean tried to maintain a smile as she got up and embraced him again. Even though these were very unsettling issues, they still drew strength from their love. They would likely need to draw on more as other non-family issues continued to escalate.

Xavier Institute – Garage

It had been a long morning for Logan. After working off a hangover, showing before for breakfast, and putting on his usual moody demeanor he started packing. He didn’t tell anybody he was leaving. He didn’t mention it to the Professor, Hank, or Jeannie. He wasn’t entirely sure if this was going to be a temporary leave or a permanent deal. He just had to get away.

He would be travelling light. He packed only a medium sized black bag with some money, a change of clothes, and a map. The former living weapon wasn’t sure where he was going to go. Lately, the only way he had been able to cope and find any real answers was by drinking. That low-life from the bar that mentioned a block full of mutant-friendly bars seemed like a good place to find more. It may not give him any answers on this James Howlett name that kept echoing in his mind, but it would help him get away from this.

Strapping his bag to the back of his motorcycle, Logan muttered a string of curses to himself. He hoped it wouldn’t come to this, but he made his decision.

‘I really ought to leave a note or something. But then they would just try and stop me. I don’t need Kitty and Rogue giving me that puppy dog look and I sure as hell don’t need Jeannie getting upset over it. She’s got enough on her plate with those migraines. Besides, Chuck’s the world’s greatest mind-reader. I’m sure he’ll figure out a way to break it to them.’

He didn’t want to think of how they would react. Sure, they were going to be upset, but they would get over it. They had enough to distract them anyways. Once he was out of their way, it was sure to get easier. It was time he started focusing on his own battles. He didn’t expect them to understand. However, there was one person he wasn’t sure about.

‘Don’t know about Ro. The way she’s been hanging around me, who knows how she’ll react. She’s been good company at the bar. She’s also easy on the eyes, but with the shit I got going on there’s no way I can drag her into this. I better stop it now before it gets out of control like it did with Jeannie. A woman like her deserves better. I’m sure she’ll find someone else.’

It hurt to think such thoughts, but Logan was used to such pain. Whether it was physical or personal, he could take it. With all the rage brewing inside, it was unavoidable. And staying here would just mean more pain for himself and the team.

Setting aside all emotion and doubt, the former living weapon got onto his bike and prepared to take off. But before he could start the ignition, the door to the garage burst open and the person he most wanted to avoid entered.

“Logan…” said Ororo, her voice a harsh mix of sorrow and scorn.

“Ah hell,” groaned Logan, sensing she figured out what he was up to.

“I was hoping to catch up with you and I saw your room,” she said sternly, “When were you planning to let your friends know that you were leaving?”

“Damn it, Ro! Don’t do this!” groaned Logan in frustration, “I didn’t tell anyone for a reason!”

“Well whatever it is, it’s a very bad reason! Not to mention selfish!” she said a she stormed towards him.

Logan pounded his fists on the handlebars of his motorcycle. He should have just ridden off, but he couldn’t under this woman’s gaze. Knowing her she would just kick up a tornado and pull him back.

“I know it’s a lousy move, Ro,” he said in a calmer, but still frustrated tone, “But I can’t stay here anymore! Since the mess with Sinister, I can’t hold it together!”

“So you’re solution is to quit?” said Ororo, folding her arms in a critical manner.

“I’m doing this so I don’t drag the rest of you down with me! Every freakin’ time something from my past comes out of the shadows, it fucks me up and everyone around me!”

“But we still get through it!” argued Ororo, “We’ve taken everything Weapon X and Sinister can throw at us and we’ve helped you every step of the way. What more do we have to do to prove that we can handle it?”

“That’s not the point! These are my fights! You shouldn’t have to handle it!”

“Well too bad! Because like it or not, the X-men actually give a damn about you so don’t expect us to pull back!”

Logan growled in frustration. Ororo was making this a lot harder. He didn’t want to be reminded of the people that cared about him. He didn’t want to be reminded of how much they had been helping him either, Ororo especially. The point of leaving like this was to get away before he had a chance to think twice and Ororo had him thinking more than that.

The African woman moved in closer, her demeanor shifting from one of frustration to one of compassion. She placed a tender hand on his shoulder and gazed at him with her deep blue eyes.

“Logan please…don’t do this,” she said desperately, “Whatever you’re going through, the X-men can help you. I can help you. I’m not afraid to say you matter to me, Logan. You matter a lot.”

Logan tensed under her gentle words and caring touch. It affected him more than he expected. It was a struggle to not turn around and look her in the eyes. If he did, he wouldn’t be able to go through with this.

“Sorry darling…this shit should matter to me and me alone. That’s all there is to it,” he said strongly.

Without looking at her, he pulled out of her grasp and started up his motorcycle. Before she could lay that caring hand on him again, he kicked it into gear and sped off down the driveway. It pained him to rush away from her like that, but it had to be done. This was his decision and even if it was wrong and selfish, it was final.

But as he sped off, Ororo didn’t just stand by and watch him disappear. Her expression shifted from compassion back to frustration again. She was well-aware that Logan had a tendency to be stubborn and impulsive, but it never enraged her like this. It led her to be stubborn in her own right.

“Very well, Logan. If this is how you want to do it, so be it,” she said to herself calmly.

Acting on an impulse of her own, the African woman ran over to the other motorcycle parked in the garage. This one belonged to Remy. He had it shipped up from New Orleans and was just as fond of it as Logan was with his bike. But she wasn’t thinking about how mad he would be if she took it for a spin. She was only thinking about catching up with Logan.

‘Sorry Remy. I’ll make this up to you later. It wouldn’t be the first time I had to borrow your bike like this.’

Throwing on a jacket and a helmet, Ororo quickly hot-wired the motorcycle. Her former thieving skills were still as sharp as ever. Within ten seconds, she had the engine going. Upon kicking it into gear, she rode off and sped down the driveway after Logan. He may have gotten a head start on her, but she was determined to catch up.

Just outside the main back roads surrounding the institute, Logan was already a mile or so away from the front gate. Gripping the handlebars of his bike, he didn’t dare look back. Ororo already got him to hesitate. He couldn’t start second guessing himself, but just as the institute was disappearing in his rear-view mirror, he heard an unexpected sound in the distance. It was another motorcycle and it was coming up on him fast.

“You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me!” he grunted with greater frustration.

Within minutes, the second motorcycle was riding up right alongside him. At first he couldn’t believe this was Ororo. He knew she had a wild side in addition to her kind and caring side, but this was ridiculous.

“Ro?! What the hell are you doing?!” Logan exclaimed over the noise.

“If you’re going to be this stubborn, than so am I!” she retorted coyly.

“What are you? Seven?!”

“You have no one to blame but yourself! You want to push the people who care for you away? Be ready for them to push back!”

It almost sounded like a threat. Since it was coming from Ororo, it was not a threat to take lightly. This was supposed to be a done deal. Once he left, there was no turning back. But Ororo wasn’t going to let him. The way she was riding that motorcycle, she was going to stay on him until he started thinking twice about what he was doing. It was annoying and frustrating, but the hardest part of all was that it may actually work.

“So what’s it going to be, Logan? Are you going to be reasonable and pull over?” Ororo called out.

Snarling in frustration, Logan hit the gas and accelerated. It was the kind of impulsive reaction Ororo expected from Logan. If she was going to get through to him, he wasn’t going to make it easy for her. It was a challenge she was ready to match.

“Very well then! If I have to race you to get through that thick skull of yours, let’s race!”

With the engines of their motorcycles roaring, Logan and Ororo sped towards the city. It was a match of will between two very stubborn individuals and the outcome could have a very significant impact on the X-men.

Hank’s Lab

“Is this all of it, Charles?” said Hank, who was hanging from a perch in his lab while working on his laptop.

Professor Xavier responded through a holographic video link.

“That’s the last of the files, Hank. Lilandra and her team at Aerie have compiled all they can on the Friends of Humanity. But there is little more they can gather by legitimate means.”

It was a subtle way of discussing not-so-subtle actions. Hank had been hard at work all morning compiling data on the Friends of Humanity. He had been setting up various computer arrays in his lab. Some were linked to Aerie, some were linked to the Friends of Humanity’s public databases, and some were linked to Worthington Industry thanks to a secure line set up by Warren. It was an elaborate display that would hopefully give him an unimpeded stream of information. He never had this kind of access into an enemy before and he planned on taking full advantage of it.

To coordinate their efforts, Xavier had flown out the previous night on a private jet to meet with Lilandra at Aerie headquarters in Washington DC. They were scheduled to meet with some consultants and advisers to discuss further tactics against the Friends of Humanity. But Hank also suspected it was also an excuse for Charles to spend more time with Lilandra. She had been garnering much more of his attention lately and it wasn’t because he wanted to discuss politics.

“I suppose we’ll have to make due with less dignified means,” Hank surmised, “No worries, Charles. I can handle it. Tell Lilandra I appreciate the resources, but don’t tell her what I’ll be using them for. That way if she is asked, she does not have to lie.”

“I’ll be sure to let her know, old friend. But I can’t make any promises. Lilandra is a very perceptive woman in addition to being a telepath. It’s hard to keep secrets from her.”

“For you, I’m sure it is exceptionally difficult,” said Hank coyly.

“I’m going to pretend I did not pick up on the subtle undertone to your words.”

“There’s nothing subtle about it, Charles. We all know you like this woman. Dare I say, you may be falling for her. You may be able to write it off with the rest of the team, but I know you better. I can see the signs and I know them all too well.”

Such comments earned him a bemused look from his mentor, but he was wise enough to not deny it. Even through a holographic image, his old friend was keen to his subtleties.

“We can discuss that particular subject another time, old friend. For now, Lilandra and I are working on the next phase of our strategy. She’s been in touch with a number of media contacts. We’re trying to set it up so that if something does arise with the Friends of Humanity, we’ll be ready to get it out into the media before anyone can cover it up.”

“Using the blessings of the free press to our advantage,” Hank summarized, “The perfect tactic in a politically charged conflict.”

“It still depends on Warren being able to uncover Graydon Creed’s plans before he can implement them. Have you heard anything from him yet?”

“I’m keeping an open line with Worthington Industries at all times. So far, nothing concrete has emerged. But our winged friend claims to be tracking some suspicious activity between Creed and this test pilot they’re working with, Sebastian Gilerbi. He says they may be making a move very soon.”

“Does he have any idea what this move may entail?”

“None at the moment, but it seems to involve some sort of test for this prototype they’re developing. From what Warren has told me, the mechanisms involved are quite deadly and he worries that the good captain is prone Creed’s influence.”

“I see. I’ll try and look more deeply into this as well. It may be an important angle to play as this situation develops.”

“Understood,” said Hank, “In the meantime, I’ll start dissecting the Friends of Humanity’s files. If there are any clues to their intent, I will find them.”

“I’m confident you will, Hank. Make sure the team remains on standby just in case. I’ll be in touch. Over and out.”

“Will do, Charles. Enjoy your time with your fair lady.”

That earned him one last look before the hologram projector powered down. It seemed inappropriate to be making such comments during these dire times, but they needed something to lighten their spirits. Constantly lamenting over these grim circumstances was only making it more stressful.

Even as Hank got serious again, he found himself envious of his mentor. He was glad that Charles found someone like Lilandra. He of all people deserved someone he could draw strength from in their never-ending fight. It was a feeling Hank sorely missed. He had not known that feeling since his breakup with Ororo.

At times, he found himself wondering if he even had the strength for another relationship. First there was Carlie, the woman he was going to marry. But that fell apart when his mutant heritage caught up with him. He never thought he would get close to anyone again. Then Ororo came along and showed him a man like him could still love despite his appearance. It gave him reason to hope. Seeing others like Scott and Jean, showed him that one could be an X-man and have a loving relationship.

‘You don’t know how lucky you are, Charles. If only I could share in that content feeling once more. I suppose men like us can only connect with the rarest of female companions. You seemed to find yours. I hope one day I will find mine.’

Shifting his thoughts away from romance, Hank focused on the new batch of files before him. He had to focus. Somewhere within these files were the malicious intent of the Friends of Humanity. With the election heating up, they could not afford another public outburst like they had in Philadelphia. They had to be proactive this time around. In order to do that they needed to make the first move and make it count.

Just as Hank went to work, one of his computer screens flashed with a message. It wasn’t one of the vital programs he had running. It was his instant messenger. Someone was trying to get his attention and it didn’t take long for Hank to figure out who it was.

“What’s this? Tessa?!” he said aloud, “What on Earth could she be writing me at a time like this?”

Diverting his attention from his work briefly, he opened up the message. Having not heard from her in a while, he didn’t get the sense she would be looking to casually chat quantum mechanics. As soon as he saw the opening line, his suspicions were affirmed.

“Something’s come up, Hank. A lot of mutants are in danger. Please…I need your help.”

It was probably the most serious message he ever got from Tessa. Usually he was the one writing to solicit her help. Something must have gone terribly wrong on her end.

“My help, you say?” he said, looking back at the other screens on his computer array, “There’s still so much to do. But if she’s in dire need…oh dear, you leave me in quite a predicament Tessa.”

Hank briefly debated what to do. He promised the Professor he would focus all of his energy on the Friends of Humanity, but Tessa needed him and she had done so much to help him already. A part of him was still somewhat anxious because she played such a major role in undermining her relationship with Ororo. Yet he hadn’t forgotten the emotional connection he had forged with her. With that in mind, he made a fateful decision.

“Very well, Tessa,” Hank sighed, “Let’s see what this is about. With any luck, we may be able to help each other through without someone getting their heart broken.”

Worthington Industries – Wide Awake Initiative

Captain Sebastian Gilberti was preparing for what was without a doubt the biggest test flight of his life. After his conversation with Graydon Creed, the stage was set. The Friends of Humanity was taking their prototype to the next level. As a captain in the Air Force he flew his share of dangerous missions, but none were quite like this. Flying fighter jets was all about a coordinated, precise attack. No one person had too great a role. Everyone from the pilot to the flight crew that maintained the systems bore some level of responsibility. This time all that responsibility rested on his shoulders.

In the main preparation area, a number of highly trusted Friends of Humanity technicians were helping him get the prototype on. It was a tedious process, but for equipment this advanced it was necessary. He had been standing for over a half hour, wires running out of the armor as the scientists calibrated and secured every piece and checked every system. It was almost ready. He could already feel the power coursing through him. It was a prelude of what was to come.

“How much longer?” asked Sebastian impatiently.

“We’re almost done, Captain Gilberti,” said one of the scientists, “We’re powering up the neural interface and charging up the weapons system.”

“Well hurry it up! Mr. Creed will be here any minute,” he urged, “And how many times do I have to remind you? When I’m in the prototype, call me Bastion!”

He was more forceful with his tone than when they started off. The scientists with Worthington suspected it was a result of the prototype. They claimed he was having some sort of psychological reaction to it, but the Friends of Humanity brushed it off. To them, it was a side-effect of success. Since Graydon Creed had that chat with him, the good captain had been more focused and less compromising. It was a good thing too because they were going to need that focus for what they had planned.

The prototype was almost ready. Sebastion Gilerti, or Bastion now as he thought of himself, was ready for action. As the final systems acame online, the main door to the area opened and Graydon Creed stepped in.

“Mr. Creed!” said Bastion intently, “Is it time for the test already?”

“Indeed it is. And we’re stepping up our timetable,” he said in a dark tone, “We’ve had an unfortunate development. See for yourself.”

Graydon tossed him a copy of today’s paper. On the front page was the headline “Mutant Mayhem in the City.” Just below the text were a series of pictures. They all depicted a number of men in Friends of Humanity attire being chained to street posts in East Harlem. From the looks of it, they had been beaten and humiliated. The graffiti painted on their bodies made it clear that mutants were behind this. It would have been almost humorous if it weren’t so egregious.

“Those deviant monsters!” scolded Bastion, “How did this happen?”

“Don’t concern yourself with the details. All you need to know is that this occurred in a lawless patch of land in New York City where mutants live by their own laws and shun humanity. They call it District X and in wake of this incident the entire mutant populace is up in arms. They’re prepared to march down the streets of New York, unleashing untold destruction on innocent humans.”

“And you want me to use the prototype to stop them?” surmised Bastion.

“By any means necessary,” said Creed strongly, “Make no mistake. This is not just a test. This is a mission. Your success here may very well determine the fate of human affairs.”

“I understand,” he said strongly, “As Sebastian Gilberti, I can’t make any promises. But as Bastion, you have my word that I will stop them!”

There was that burning intent again. It was the kind of tone he used only when he had the prototype on. Graydon Creed couldn’t help but admire such determination. It was the kind of grit they would need if they were to oppose the mutant onslaught.

“That’s all I need to hear,” said Creed, “My team will now enter the coordinates into the prototype. Once you’re in the air, all communication will be severed.”

“I understand,” said Bastion, “Will the Worthington staff know?”

“My people have already taken care of them,” he assured, “They think it’s your night off and the prototype is undergoing maintenance.”

“And they bought it? Guess these Worthington Industry people aren’t as attentive as I thought.”

“They serve their purpose. Now it is tome we serve ours,” said Creed strongly.

The founder and leader of the Friends of Humanity took the paper and stepped back behind a protective barrier with the rest of his scientists. The final checks had been completed and the launch sequence was underway. The wires and tubes going into the prototype were released, leaving the determined young Captain to stand on his own in preparation for the next step.

A series of sirens went off as blast shielding went up to protect the men and equipment from the ensuing ignition. The scientists worked feverishly while Graydon Creed watched with a calm yet determined focus. A lot was riding on this mission. He promised Senator Kelly that his people would deliver the trust and faith of humanity. This was him making good on that promise while earning what he hoped would be a place in the very upper echelons of power.

“Opening launch tunnel,” said one of the scientists, “T-minus 30 seconds to ignition.”

Right above Bastion, the gears and machinery that helped him put on the prototype moved out of the way via hydraulics. Up above, a series of gates in the ceiling opened. Bastion looked up at the now open tunnel above him. He could see the clear afternoon skies above him. It was the first time he would be venturing out into the open with this prototype. Now the world was going to see what he could do.

Everything was set. Each scientist gave the go-ahead for the next and most crucial step. Graydon Creed would have the honors. He stood over the main console ready to initiate this pivotal test. One of the main technicians began the final countdown.

“Ignition in 5…4…3…2…1.”

At that crucial moment, Graydon pushed the button and ignited the prototype. The roar of the rocket engines echoed through the area as Bastion shot up into the air and out the tunnel. It all happened so fast. Within a few seconds he was out of sight, flying through the tunnel and out into the skies above.

Once he was gone, Creed and his associates let out a temporary sigh of relief. They had done their job. They created the prototype and were able to implement it without Worthington Industries getting in the way. Now it was up to Bastion.

“Cutting off radio contact now,” said one of the technicians, “Bastion is officially on his own.”

“Any sign that Worthington Industry security noticed?” asked one of the scientists.

“We just launched the most deadly anti-mutant platform to date. Of course they’re going to notice,” said Creed stoically, “But it’s already too late. With all communication lines severed, Bastion cannot be stopped.”

“So what do we do once someone like Warren does find out?”

“We’ll worry about that later,” scoffed Creed, “That rich snob and his son are too busy glad-handling the shareholders. It won’t matter what they do. When this is over, they’ll both be in a very precarious position. Because at the end of the day there will be no more debate. They’ll either be on the side of these mutant abominations or they’ll be on the side of humanity!”

It was a bold statement, but one every Friends of Humanity member believed completely. Graydon Creed was an ambitious man. This venture was his boldest step yet towards realizing his dream of a purer humanity. With the mission officially underway, he was confident that no one could stop him.

Worthington Industries – Warren’s Office

Warren Worthington III was working on nearly a full day without sleep. He was working off his fourth cup of coffee and his 12th hour of uninterrupted work. It was by far the longest he had ever been so deeply involved in a single task. He used to think the homework from his classes and the exams he took were hard, but this was on a whole new level. Only unlike his class work, he was working towards something far more valuable than a passing grade.

“Creed, you stupid son-of-a-bitch...you’ve really done it now. You’ve officially screwed yourself!” said the winged mutant with a triumphant grin.

Hunched over his desk, Warren watched the live video image of Graydon Creed launching the prototype. It was off hours, unauthorized, and illegal in at least ten different ways. Best of all, he had no idea that he had been keeping a close eye on him through this whole project. He didn’t even know he had been installing hidden cameras and recording systems in the rooms that were supposed to be private. Creed thought he outsmarted him and the rest of Worthington Industries. That anti-mutant zealot was in for a rude awakening.

With renewed energy, Warren turned to his laptop which he had linked back to Hank at the institute. For once, the X-men had a chance get the jump on their enemies. With the right planning, they could turn the threat posed by Bastion into something positive.

“Beast, are you still awake?” said Warren into the link.

He didn’t get a response at first. He was in a rush so he pushed harder.

“Beast? Mr. McCoy? Please tell me you didn’t nod off on me!” he said with more urgency.

“Oops, sorry Warren. I was busy with something.”

“Well set it aside! Creed is making his move!” said the winged mutant, “I just caught him carrying out an unauthorized launch of the prototype. I got a full recording of his every word. He’s staging some sort of attack!”

“Just as we suspected. Did you happen to overhear any details?”

“He was careful with his words, but he called this a mission and not a test! He said something about striking back against some mutant community in New York. He said there was some incident with the Friends of Humanity and some mutants there.”

There was a brief pause over the line. Warren could tell Hank was surprised. He was too articulate not to respond so quickly.

“A mutant community? So she was right!”

“She? Who are you talking about?” asked Warren in confusion.

“Never mind that. We must act! Please tell me your people implemented a means of shutting down this prototype.”

“My father’s hopelessly paranoid. Of course there’s a fail-safe. But the Friends of Humanity aren’t taking any chances. They cut off all communication with the prototype as soon as he launched! If we’re going to activate the fail-safe, we need to reestablish a link to the main systems! I don’t know what kind of stunt Creed is pulling, so I’ll need you to hack one for me.”

“That won’t be a problem. Just link me to the prototype networks and I’ll get right on it! In the meantime, I’ll contact Charles. He and Lilandra are working on something that could potentially shut Creed and is associates down with this information.”

“I hope it involves watching him get hauled off in handcuffs.”

“Oh I assure you, it’s going to be quite harsh. But you’ll need to coordinate with them. And whatever you do, don’t let that madman escape!”

“He won’t. I’ll make sure of that!” said Warren intently, “What about the prototype? What if you can’t shut it down before it reaches it’s destination?”

“I’ll summon the rest of the X-men to head it off. I have a pretty good idea where it’s going so I know where to send them.”

“Well tell them to be careful! I’ve seen this thing in action. It’s no pushover!”

“I’ll be sure to convey your concerns. Thanks to the access you’ve given me, this shouldn’t get as messy as usual. You and your family company have really pulled through here, Warren. This could be the turning point that mutants need!”

“Let’s hope so. Over and out,” said Warren distantly.

Warren sat back and took a deep breath as he took in what was happening. For once, an ambitious plan of the X-men was working. They had a clear advantage over the Friends of Humanity minions and they were poised to take advantage of it. In some ways it was surreal because he had his father to thank for this. Had he not given him domain over this project, they may not have had this opportunity. They would be in the same helpless state they had always been in, having to react to crisis as they occurred. It was a good feeling, using his family company to help the X-men and mutants everywhere. Perhaps this could be the start of something entirely new for him.

It was a daunting notion, but one he would have to think about after this was over. For now, he had work to do. He trusted his friends to handle the prototype and whatever tricks the Friends of Humanity had planned. Graydon Creed was his responsibility and nothing was going to stop him from taking him down.

New York City – Outside District X

Logan and Ororo had been racing along for over two hours. They were well within the city limits now, weaving their way through rush-hour traffic and breaking any number of traffic laws in the process. Logan had been trying everything to lose Ororo in this impromptu chase. He thought he could lose Ororo by taking winding back roads onto the highway. He thought wrong. He thought he could lose her in the chaos of the city. He thought wrong again. Ororo was proving to be more tenacious than he expected. She wasn’t going to leave him alone until they finished what they started.

Logan snarled in frustration. Why was this woman so hell bent on pestering him like this? Did she really think that by chasing him like this it would change his mind? For all he knew, she was just messing with him and had no intention of trying to change his decision. He thought he knew Ororo Munroe, but she was finding new ways of surprising him.

“How much longer are you going to keep this up, Logan?” Ororo called out, “Remy filled this thing up with gas just yesterday so I can go as long as I have to!”

“You’re just screwing with me now! Ain’t you, Ro?!”

“Don’t act like you’re not enjoying it! Isn’t this the kind of thing you do for fun?”

“You bugging the hell out of me like this ain’t my idea of fun!”

“Too bad because I’m having a blast!” she grinned.

Logan was running out of patience. On top of that his motorcycle was running out of gas as well. Ororo was wearing him down. She knew she just had to keep up and his lousy foresight would do the rest.

Growling in annoyance, he made a sharp turn down a new round of blocks. They were nearing the area he learned of in the bar the previous night. He could tell they were close because there was less traffic and the buildings were more run down. There were also less pedestrians on the sidewalk, which at this hour of the evening was rare in a place like New York. He wasn’t sure what he would find in these parts, but the dilapidated area may give him a chance at escaping Ororo’s little game.

The African mutant kept following closely as they made a sharp turn into a sparsely populated street. They passed a number of parked cars and roadblocks. Logan showed off his biking skills by jumping them by using a compact car as a ramp. Ororo didn’t miss a beat, using her wind powers to carry her up and over the obstacle. He nearly swerved out of control while she landed softly and gracefully. Even he had to admit it was a pretty neat trick.

“Better watch yourself, Logan! You won’t last long if you keep pulling stunts like that!” warned Ororo.

“You know I’ll take that chance!” snarled Logan.

“Of course I know! I’m just telling you so you’ll be even more distracted!”

His frustration was starting to boil over. Logan downshifted his bike and prepared to make another daring stunt. While in the middle of a block, he slammed on the breaks and pulled a very sharp turn. The rear tires of his motorcycle screeched and caused a car behind him to swerve, but he didn’t care. He was still working off impulse. Once his wheels got traction again, he geared up and sped into a narrow alley between two old buildings. He grazed a couple of pedestrians along the way, who could only jump out of the way. Now in the alley, he sped up while narrowly avoiding trashcans and boxes. It was a confined area, but he kept his focus on the path ahead.

This time, Ororo didn’t follow his lead. That stunt was too foolish even for her to follow. She could only pull her motorcycle up to the curb and look down the alley as Logan was riding off. With the way he was riding and the layout of the alley, this could not end well.

“Oh Logan, why do you do this to yourself?” she sighed.

Kicking her motorcycle back into gear, she sped back onto the main street. Even though she couldn’t follow him, she could still head him off. It was just disappointing that it had to come to this.

Logan wasn’t expecting to see her catch up. He remained focused as he skillfully swerved his motorcycle through the alley, dodging more trash cans and dumpsters. He had a few close calls. He even felt one of the dumpers graze his shoulder. He continued to ignore it, too focused to care about any damage he took. There was no room to think, reason, or second guess. There was only the next obstacle and how he was going to avoid it.

“Finally! I lost her,” he said in triumph.

He could see the end of the ally just up ahead. It had a number of dumpsters and trash cans in the way as well. He prepared to maneuver around them just as he had the others. Then suddenly, he encountered an obstacle he didn’t expect.

Out of the side of the alley, a door opened and a young teenage boy stepped out dragging a bag of garbage. He was dressed in a fast food uniform and didn’t notice Logan riding up fast. When he finally did look up, it was too late for him to get out of the way. All Logan could do was look on in shock and swerve to get out of the way.

“Look out, kid!” he exclaimed.

The boy was frozen and shock. He braced himself and waited, but it never came.

Working off yet another impulse, Logan made another hard turn on his motorcycle to get out of the way. He turned so hard the metal on his bike grinded up against the walls. Sparks flew and Logan’s right leg took some serious damage. But he was able to avoid the boy, barely grazing him as he sped by him. While he avoided the boy, now he was on a collision course with the dumpster.

“Ahhhhh shit!” he exclaimed.

In a deafening crash of metal and flesh, Logan’s motorcycle swerved and rammed the dumpster at a hard angle. The impact essentially stopped his bike, but he kept on going since he wasn’t strapped in. While his bike ran swirled and fell onto the pavement in a twisted heap, he went flying over the dumpster and tumbled around on the hard ground. Since he was going so fast, he did quite a few flips and twists along the way. There were no pedestrians nearby this time, but he did cause a few cars to skid out of the way. By the time he finally came to a stop, he was in the middle of the road, badly bruised, and in a world of pain.

“Ungh…damn kid!” he grunted.

While he grit his teeth through the pain and struggled back to his feet, Ororo pulled up on her motorcycle. He barely acknowledged her presence, focusing too much on the pain from the bloody wounds that now littered his body. Ororo, showing more concern this time, quickly parked her motorcycle on the curb and ran to his aid.

“Are you okay, Logan?” said the African woman as she helped him up.

“Hnn…I’ll walk it off,” he grunted, shaking off her assistance.

“You know, I did give you fair warning,” she reminded him, “Any chance it knocked some sense into you?”

“Don’t start with me! I’m serious, Ro! I don’t want to hear it!”

The feral mutant grunted as he tried to stand up, only to stumble back onto the pavement in a world of pain. One of his wounds tore some tendons in his knee, making the mere act of standing next to impossible. His healing factor was kicking in, but for these kinds of injuries even he needed a moment.

What was even greater than the physical pain was the situation in which he now found himself. Ororo stood over him, that critical yet caring look still locked on his wounded form. She still knelt down and helped him up, even after the long, drawn out chase he just put her through. He kept pushing her, cussing her out, and yelling at her to leave him alone. But she stayed with him. She humbled him in more ways than one, making it clear she was not going to let him just walk away from her or the X-men.

After she helped him up, she stayed silent. She didn’t start lecturing him again for his reckless behavior. She just stood in silence, staring at him with those alluring blue eyes of hers.

“What do you want from me, Ro?” said Logan in a low tone as he stood in the middle of the street, catching his breath, “I told you why I’m leaving. I gave you my reasons. Why the hell can’t you just accept it?”

“Because it’s obvious you’re still not thinking this through,” she answered, “I’m not asking you to give me a reason. I’m not asking you to explain yourself. You’ve already done that. All I want is for you to stop and think about what you’re doing.”

“You think I took this shit lightly? I have thought about it, damn it!”

“Have you? Can you look me in the eye and say you’re completely convinced that you’re making the right decision?”

Logan groaned again. He knew he couldn’t do what she was asking. He couldn’t look this woman in the eye and lie to her face any more than he could do with Jeannie, Rogue, or the Professor. He was a terrible liar and had a weakness for that pleading look. It annoyed him to no end, but it also revealed a painful truth.

“Damn it all to freakin’ hell,” he grunted.

“I thought so,” she said with a slight smile.

“Stop giving me that look already! I get it. I’m an irrational, impulsive guy. I don’t think things through and it gets me into trouble.”

“That’s never stopped you from doing the right thing before.”

“You don’t understand,” he growled, “After the shit Sinister revealed to me about Weapon X, I just can’t hold it together anymore! I can’t…”

“You’re upset. Nobody can blame you for that,” she said in a deep, compassionate tone, “And you may be right. I don’t understand what it is you’re going through. But I’ve gotten to know you pretty well these past. You’re a man who knows deep down what is right and what is wrong. What you’re doing here you’re doing out of anger, frustration, and maybe even a little fear.”

“Sounds like the same lecture the Prof gave to Magneto,” muttered Logan.

“And you saw what happened when he took it too far,” she went on, “It doesn’t have to be that way. It may be hard for you now, but about tomorrow? Or next month? Or next year even? You’re not going to run away from your problems. You’re not going to help yourself by running from the people who care about you either. We all have our battles we need to fight.”

“This is the part where you tell me I don’t have to fight them alone,” he said dryly.

“No, this is the part where I tell you fighting them alone will get you killed. We have a saying in Africa. No matter how great a warrior may be, it takes an army to win a battle.”

Logan finally looked up into Ororo’s powerful gaze. Just as he expected, her alluring eyes struck him on many levels. There was no avoiding it. What he was doing was wrong on every level. It didn’t matter how angry he was at Ororo or himself. He really had no excuses. Now here he was, battered and bruised because of this utterly stupid decision. If that wasn’t a telling sign he wasn’t sure what was.

He could no longer afford not to think about this. Ororo Munroe made it clear that she wasn’t going to leave him until he stood up and made the right decision. She went through all this trouble and dealt with his stubborn attitude to prove her point. Given the wounds he inflicted upon himself, it was a point that needed to be made.

“You’re a crazy woman, Storm,” he said, “Brave, but freakin’ crazy to go through all this trouble for an ass like me.”

“I’m not sure what you’re implying, but I suppose I should say thank you,” said Ororo in a humored tone, “Does this means you’re going to take my advice?”

“Don’t start gloating on me, darlin’,” he muttered, “If I’m gonna give this any kind of thought, I’m gonna need a drink.”

“I figured as such,” she said in a humored tone, “But you didn’t answer my question. Are you or aren’t you going to think about what you’re doing?

As if to coax him even further, Ororo offered a more affectionate gesture towarsd the former living weapon. It was the kind of gesture that eased the pain even better than his healing factor. He was still angry and frustrated, but for the first time since the clash with Sinister it wasn’t as overwhelming. It may have been Ororo’s presence or he may have just worn himself out with this chase. He was inclined to credit Ororo because she was as bold as she was beautiful.

Even with that pleading look in her eye, he couldn’t give her a clear answer. It wasn’t just stubbornness. He still had all these twisted thoughts rattling through his mind. He was about to say something, but then this potentially profound moment was interrupted.

“Oh my God! Run!” came a voice from down the block.

“I knew this would happen! Those freaks are finally rising up!”

“Get the kids out of here! They’re coming fast!”

The terrified voices of fleeing civilians filled the streets. Before Logan and Ororo knew it, dozens of terrified pedestrians were running by them. There was great fear in their eyes, as if they had seen a monster. This was a rough part of town and many of these people looked rugged and hardened from these conditions. For them to be this terrified, it had to be something bad.

“Hold that thought, darlin’,” growled Logan as he drew his claws, “Looks like we dropped in on a little party!”

“Just our luck,” she muttered, disappointed that Logan didn’t give an answer, “I’m guessing it’s not an American Idol audition. What do you think it could be?”

“I ain’t sure, but I think we’ve stumbled ass backwards into something big!”

Shaking off his lingering injuries, Logan took a defensive stance. Ororo was still looking around in confusion, watching as more pedestrians ran by in terror. She tried asking them what was going on, but none was willing to slow down. Then she started making note of their surroundings. These streets were unusually deserted for New York City. They passed only a few pedestrians after Logan crashed. Ororo also noticed this wasn’t the most well-maintained part of the city. This particular block had pot-holed streets, boarded up buildings, and blacked out windows for pretty much every structure. It was as if the city had completely abandoned this area, leaving it ripe for stirring up trouble.

Upon realizing the kind of environment they were in, Ororo looked out several blocks to see if she could make out the source of the commotion. From the shrouded haze, an ominous sight emerged.

Several blocks down, a massive collection of figures marched down the street. As they came into view, Logan and Ororo could see that it was a huge collection of mutants. There were hundreds of them, some which looked human and others that didn’t. They recognized a few Morlocks and a few faces from the uprising on Genosha. There were so many that they stretched from one end of the street to another. Some were even using their powers to overturn cars, break windows, and start fires. It looked like a full blown riot and leading the charge was an angry-looking young man with blond hair who was speaking into a bullhorn.

“This is a message to every human in this city! We, the mutants of District X, will not tolerate seeing our friends and loved ones beaten up, abused, and tortured for no other reason than being who they are! If you are going to send your thugs to intimidate us, we will not let it stand! We will come together! We will fight back! You’re people started this! And tonight, we’re going to end it!”

Next Issue: District X Part 2

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